Mary Magdalene: Art’s Scarlet Woman

mary magdalene image

BBC4’s new documentary takes a playful look at the historical figure (or perhaps character) of Mary Magdalene. Presenter Waldemar Januszczak visits locations from biblical times (including her namesake town of Magdala) and explores the myths and folklore behind Mary, who is apparently only found in the Bible four times… fleetingly at that.

The overarching theme of the program is: “Art versus Fact”, if religious matters can be classed as fact. Artists are known for being a bit liberal with the truth (Lady Godiva anyone?) and Mary Magdalene has been no exception. Stories about her appearance, whereabouts, personality, alleged prostitution and more have all been supposedly fabricated over the centuries. Confusingly, there are also several Marys in the Bible which makes this mess even more potent.

I find it difficult to get too invested into documentaries such as this which are heavily speculative and offer little answers to the questions being posed. Waldemar Januszczak however does a great job at navigating us through the confusing myths of Mary Magdalene with a brilliant sense of irony and sarcasm. It feels as though at any moment he casually may turn to camera and say: “It’s all a bit daft this innit? Bloody artists!”

Those into conspiracies and folklore may enjoy this documentary. Sceptics such as myself who couldn’t care less will at least be entertained by its humorous undertones, even if our completionist thirst for answers remains unquenchable.

Mary Magdalene: Arc’s Scarlet Woman is on the BBC iPlayer.