BBC America successfully treads controversial and somewhat clichéd ground in The Second Coming, a telepic that suggests what might occur if God's son were to suddenly reveal himself in the modern world.
Steve Baxter (Christopher Eccleston) is an essentially unremarkable man: A video-store clerk from Manchester, England, who we meet down at the local pub, where he's out with friends celebrating the divorce of close friend Judith (Lesley Sharp, The Full Monty).
Judith and Steve are old school friends who have always had feelings for each other, but never admitted it to themselves. That night, the two come clean — and kiss for the first time. The revelation causes Steve to wander away in a daze, and he's not seen again for 40 days.
When he does turn up, he's in a hospital in Leeds, disheveled and claiming to be the son of God. Though no one believes him at first, he uses the Internet to draw a throng of people to the Manchester City team's soccer stadium, where he miraculously bathes the field in a patch of daylight in the middle of the night.
The forces of darkness, in the form of manipulated members of Steve's world, aren't far behind — primarily in the form of Johnny Tyler (Mark Benton), whom we first encounter as a shlubby guy that Judith is fixed up with via a dating service. Benton delivers a strong two-pronged performance as Tyler is manipulated by dark forces seeking to undermine Steve's message.
The rest of the ensemble cast also comes on strong as they show the various reactions to their friend's sudden divinity: Peter (Ashen Batti), a believer who buys in easily; Fiona (Annabel Appison), a housewife trapped in a bad marriage who goes from agnosticism to a fanatical piety following Steve's transformation; and Judith, who remains a skeptic to the near end.
To the credit of director Adrian Shergold (Inspector Morse) and writer Russel T. Davies (Queer as Folk), the most obvious clichés are avoided. The fact that a viewer can't tell where this film is going until it gets there — considering it travels the well-trod ground of the Christian Gospel — is a testament to the strength of the script and direction.
The Second Coming
bowed Saturday, Sept. 20, on BBC America and will be repeated.