This film has some wonderful moments. The acting is excellent in the primary roles, but there are some clunky performances in the incidental roles (Festus is strangely very American while the other actors have adopted a British standard. John is wooden and all the Roman Soldiers seem to have lead tongues).
However, I thoroughly enjoyed both Robert Foxworth (Peter) and Anthony Hopkins (Paul) in the title roles. I also thought Jon Finch (Luke), Herbert Lom (Barnabas) and Jose Ferrer (Gamaliel) were standouts - their performances seemed effortless. Kudos also to Julian Fellowes as Nero, who was sufficiently creepy and dangerous. I felt that Tony Hopkins was best in the more personal moments, and Robert Foxworth was heartbreaking, particularly at his crucifixion.
As a Christian who believes in the absolute infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, there were some points of contention I had with the film.
First, it starts with the stoning of Stephen without showing his amazing speech to the Sanhedrin that brought about the hatred from the ruling council in the first place. Also, by the time the film starts, the narrative thread is promoting a 'Christianity in Crisis' theme that the book of Acts never goes near. Christianity was certainly heavily persecuted, but the work of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles has primacy in Acts, not the work of the men themselves. One major, crucial, aspect left out at the beginning of the film is the realm of the miraculous. By the time Stephen has been stoned in Acts, Peter has given incredible sermons that turn thousands to Christ. He and John have healed a lame man, been imprisoned, whipped, and counted it all joy that they partook in the sufferings of the Lord. Peter was not angry at the competition coming from Paul, in fact, he is the one at the Jerusalem council who affirms salvation by grace for Gentiles as well as Jews who believe in Christ.
Second, by downplaying the gospel affirming miracles, the director undercuts the authority of the early church and the gospel itself. For instance, Paul's conversion was actually one of the weakest parts of the film when it should have been the strongest. In the film, the wind whips up, he falls over, looks at the sun, and answers a voice that is not there. It allows for someone to say his conversion was internal only, almost psychological, like an hallucination. However, in the Acts account, Paul is blinded by a light brighter than the sun, and asks the risen Christ "who are you, Lord" who answers him "I am Jesus, who you are persecuting." The others hear the voice but don't understand it. The conversion, while happening in his heart, was also, like the Bible, an objective thing verifiable by others. Peter's escape from prison was treated in the same manner. He looks at a torch, weird, cold music plays and his chains break off as he tugs at them. In Acts, an angel comes in, speaks to him, and leads him out of the prison and out of the city. Peter thinks he's having a vision, but then knows what's really happening. When Paul is at Philippi, the woman who mocks him is demon possessed and Paul commands the evil spirit to come out of her. In the film, they downplay the supernatural and show the woman totally in her right mind, just able to throw her voice to make it appear that someone else is speaking. Paul rebukes her by saying "you will never speak in two voices again".
I could go on but I don't want to belabor the point. I think producers get nervous with miracles and the supernatural, and try to make it appear more rational. That's why in most movies about Jesus, they spend about 45 minutes on the crucifixion and about 30 seconds on the resurrection. In the Gospels the emphasis is on Jesus rising from the dead. That's why we believe.
Thirdly, Peter and Paul does not show the Pentecost, which gave the church undying confidence and authority in Christ, His apostles, and His word. Too often in Peter and Paul they make Christianity look like it is a business in a precarious position trying to gain market share, instead of the divinely appointed way to God through Christ. Of course, many and most don't believe this, but if you are going to produce New Testament movies, do it as the New Testament teaches, all miracles and confrontation of Jewish authority included.
I liked the more intimate moments of the film, subtle relationships and the like. I found myself moved near the end of the film, where the record of Acts has stopped and the director is not hampered by trying to stay true to a text he possibly doesn't believe in. At this point, Day does include voice-overs of Paul's epistles which are effective. However, the competition between Paul and Peter in the film is not shared by the New Testament. They are almost always harmonious save one confrontation where Paul rebukes Peter for adhering to Jewish law too rigidly after already eating with Gentiles. Furthermore, Peter preached to Gentiles as well when he converted Cornelius's household. Nothing like a good drama, but I felt that the conflicts between Paul and Peter in the film were ratcheted up too far in search of drama over truth.
Loved the settings and the costumes.
I understand that a film cannot necessarily follow the Bible word for word, but I still wait for the day when a fully realized and accurate Acts film is made. I don't think it'll happen because it would probably be too offensive, but I would love to see it.