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John Wycliffe: The Morning Star (1984)

| Biography, Drama, History
The story of 14th century John Wycliffe, AKA "The Morning Star of the Reformation", who was the first to translate the Bible into English.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Michael Bertenshaw ...
John Purvey
James Downie ...
Boy
Peter Howell ...
Barrie Cookson ...
Dr. Nicholas Hereford
Jeremy Roberts ...
Peter J. Cassell ...
Batka (as Peter Cassell)
...
Wycliffe's Niece
Noel Howlett ...
Archbishop Sudbury
Robert James ...
Bishop Courtenay
...
Sheriff
Martin Matthews ...
Prisoner
Sebastian Abineri ...
Peasant Husband
Anna Lindup ...
Peasant Wife
...
Colin Russell ...
Squire Newberry
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Storyline

John Wycliffe, the scholar and lay preacher of the 14th century who was later dubbed "The Morning Star of the Reformation", risked his life and freedom to criticize the Church for its abuses of power and its false teachings. The dramatized story of his life includes his battles with Church authorities, his relationship with the peasants and his realization that the Bible must be translated into English, so that the common man, as well as the learned, could read it. Written by J. Spurlin

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It's nice to see a film about such an extraordinary man.
19 March 2012 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

Occasionally in history, there are people who are so transcendent that you marvel at them. Consider John Wycliffe and his teachings. During the later years of the so-called 'Dark Ages', he was an amazing lone voice for reason and reform--during an era when no one else before him really cared about such things. The Catholic Church was THE unchallenged authority in the West--yet Wycliffe, a mere professor, stood up against this huge machine. Now by the time of Martin Luther, 150 years later, there had been several other religious dissidents--but Wycliffe did not have them and their examples--making him a truly extraordinary man.

This film is about Wycliffe and his stance against Church abuses. Unfortunately, it completely ignores most of his life and picks up in his latter years--once his heretical teachings came to the Church's attention. I don't blame the filmmakers and assume this is mostly because of time constraints AND because information about his earlier years is probably rather scant. After all, historians tend to focus less on the formative years but on the more famous period of great peoples' lives.

Peter Howell plays Wycliffe. I was very surprised when I saw him because he looked just like contemporary pictures of the religious leader. He also did a nice job putting across Wycliffe's character--such as in the very touching scene where he gently talks with a woman whose child had died. I have no idea if this event actually occurred to Wycliffe and I'd like to assume it did because it showed wonderful strength and gentleness.

"John Wycliffe: The Morning Star" does a decent job explaining the doctrine espoused by Wycliffe and the Lollards (a name given to his followers). However, I might have preferred if it had been more explicit in these beliefs. It does emphasize Wycliffe's belief that the Papacy is NOT the ultimate authority, that the Bible must be translated into the common vernacular of the day, and that we are justified by faith. It doesn't discuss his views on closing the monasteries or some of his other teachings--but does cover most of the major ones. And, interestingly, these are almost identical to those proposed by Luther many, many, many years later.

Overall, this is a film that would probably excite religious folks and historians. Sadly, I doubt if others would watch it--though he was too extraordinary to be forgotten by most others. The film, while not as long and detailed as I might have liked, is exceptionally well made (with very nice costumes and sets) and well worth seeing. This production clearly appears to have been a labor of love.


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