The Book of Clarence review: "An amusing but muddled Biblical satire"

The Book of Clarence (2023)
(Image: © Sony)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

An inclusive riposte to Gospel truth that ultimately loses the courage of its satirical convictions.

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The Book of Clarence has had its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival. Here’s our review...

The Hollywood Biblical epic was always ripe for parody - and so it came to pass in the classic likes of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Four decades on, writer/director Jeymes Samuel (The Harder They Fall) has another stab at pricking the genre’s pomposity, with amusing but muddled results.

It’s certainly great fun watching Jerusalem deadbeat Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield) try to dodge a gambling debt by attempting to become Jesus’s 13th apostle, and when that fails, setting out his stall as a messianic miracle-worker. 

It’s clear, meanwhile, that Samuel is having a ball himself crafting a hip new spin on Roman Judea: one in which Shisha pipes turn their users into floating stoners, a stern John the Baptist (David Oyelowo) combines slaps with immersions, and a chariot race occurs on the same Matera thoroughfare that Daniel Craig used in No Time To Die.

But around the midway point, though, anarchic gusto gives way to po-faced reverence as Clarence gains both a conscience and, confusingly, preternatural powers. A Da Vinci-esque Last Supper is milked for laughs, while a mass crucifixion is played bloodily straight – a puzzling tonal blend that may well make viewers query the cohesion of the film’s intentions. 

Stanfield, on double duty as both Clarence and his straitlaced disciple twin Thomas, is a charismatic lead in a cast that boasts more than one enjoyable cameo. Yet you can’t help concluding that Samuel’s laudable ambition to give his mischievous comedy a deeper resonance was too heavy a cross to bear. 

The Book of Clarence is released in US cinemas on 12 January 2024 and in UK cinemas on 19 January 2024. 

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Freelance Writer

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more.