‘Mary Magdalene.’

Australian exhibitors are optimistic about the prospects of Garth Davis’ Mary Magdalene, which Transmission Films will launch on Thursday on about 110 locations, after nifty debuts last weekend in Italy and Brazil.

Rooney Mara’s generally-acclaimed performance as the unsung 13th apostle combined with a fresh re-telling of the Biblical story and Davis’ soaring stocks after his feature directing debut Lion could well ensure a sizable turn-out.

Davis hosted six Q&A sessions in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane which generated $15,000 before advance screenings around Australia last weekend, revenues which will be included in the opening weekend total.

However some exhibitors are tempering expectations by saying the industry should not expect the release to resonate as widely as Lion, which grossed nearly $30 million.

Cinema Nova general manager Kristian Connelly is a fan of the film produced by See-Saw Films’ Emile Sherman and Iain Canning and Porchlight’s Liz Watts. “It’s an interesting depiction of the era, far removed from the Biblical sword-and-sandal epics; it’s almost ethereal,” he tells IF.

But Connelly adds, “It is a considerable departure from Lion so it’s unfair to put the same box office expectations upon it. Features that deal in religious themes have a mixed track record at the Australian box office. Mary Magdalene’s fortunes will be more apparent once the Easter weekend rolls around.”

Wallis Cinemas’ Bob Parr was happy with the previews at his circuit and he expects it will open well.

Scripted by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett, the historical drama features Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter and Tahar Rahim as Judas.

It began its global roll-out last weekend via Universal in several major markets including Italy, notching $US667,000 at 350 locations, and Brazil with $US375,000 at 369, ahead of Lion in both.

The UK delivered £239,000 ($A434,000) at more than 400 cinemas. While that’s not a great figure it may have little or no bearing on the Australian performance given the production has a much higher profile here and in any case is not the kind of film that mature-aged cinemagoers rush out to see on the first weekend.

UK critics can be harsh but most were positive. Empire Online’s Dan Jolin welcomed the efforts to return Mary to her rightful place as the 13th disciple, revealing how she might really have lived: Hauling fish nets with her sisters on the shore of Galilee and resisting her father and brother’s attempts to marry her off with “such nonconformist vehemence they assume demons have infested her soul.”

Jolin also admired the film for liberating Magdalene from the ‘fallen woman’ cliché and Mara’s turn, but he did not find Phoenix convincing and thought the narrative loses focus during the crucial final act.

The Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin lauded the movie as thought-provoking, fantastically tasteful and an unexpectedly austere, solemn follow-up to Lion.

Although Collin said the film neither “breaks your heart nor grabs your throat,” he raved about Rahim’s portrayal of Judas as a “wide-eyed fanboy undergoing a crisis of faith, whose betrayal of his idol is framed as a desperate attempt to force his hand.”

The critic also praised the soundtrack, the last completed by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson before his death last month, aged 48, co-written with the cellist Hildur Guðnadóttir.


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