God’s Outlaw

Tyndale on the run in Antwerp and Marburg produces an English Bible with not so many errors as you have fingers. He is betrayed, throttled and burned for this arrant rank Lutheranism, before the King publishes Coverdale.

The great beauty of Tyndale’s Corinthians is a splendid, quiet voiceover. Zinnemann’s A Man for All Seasons has this same connection with Sir Thomas More and Henry VIII strolling in Chelsea. Much ground is covered, the suffering of the martyr, “hungry, thirsty, cold, persecuted, shipwrecked even,” Emerson on Transubstantiation, Isocrates, Erasmus (“It was through the Greek Testament of Erasmus that I first found Christ,” says Tyndale), “Wycliffe and his Lollard followers.”

Not counting Pollack’s The Interpreter, this must be the finest film devoted to translation, with a calm reflection on bothersome academics who always want to know how difficult it was. It was never easy and never will be, a dictionary definition of ecclesia doesn’t tell the whole story, Tyndale explains, and the crew of the starship Enterprise have the same difficulty with Klingon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

More writes for free against the outlaw of uninterpretation, the simple text should carry the weight of its own utterance entire, the act of translating is a sunny exercise of art amid the sordid shifting politics of any day, and then the King takes sustenance from The Obedience of the Christian Man with reference to his Romish toils, the possibility of an alliance presents itself, the Bishop of London takes a hand.

The issue is thoroughly weighed and measured by an excellent writer, Ben Steed, and beautifully filmed with sumptuous attention to detail in costumes, subtlety of wit and the matter in hand, and though the film is largely unknown, it’s at least as fine a job as Calvino’s professor translating on the fly in If on a winter’s night a traveler. Tyndale dies filled with the Faith, Hope and Love he preached from Paul to the English, and without which martyrdom itself is a pain in the royal arse.