Like many others one of the things that I managed to fit in this Christmas was a trip to the cinema with my family to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Having read the book as a small child and directed it as a play during my time as a school teacher, I was particularly keen to see the way in which it would be adapted on the big screen.
And it was seeing the ways in which the film adapted the story that brought me the greatest enjoyment. Avoiding what was probably a strong temptation to simply regurgitate the text, here was a very definite effort to reimagine Lewis' classic story and probe more deeply into some of its themes. This was evident from the very beginning of the movie with vivid scenes of the Pevensie children fleeing into their Anderson shelter to escape the German bombers and their evacuation to the country providing stimulating context in which to reflect on the theme of the defeat of evil. The humour within the story was also considerably developed, particularly in the scenes with Mr and Mrs Beaver, where their pious poem about Aslan (received so respectfully in the original) receives a sceptical "that doesn't even rhyme" from Susan. "You're missing the point my dear!" responds a slightly peeved Mr Beaver before the action continues.
The adaptation that I most enjoyed, however, and the film's most significant development, was the fresh interpretation that was offered of Edmund, the third of the Pevensie children. Reading the book for the first time all those years ago, it was Edmund that I had immediately identified with, feeling a very common bond with his frustration at the status of being the younger brother. Indeed it was this identification, combined with dislike for the rather earnest Peter, that made me increasingly annoyed with what I saw as Lewis' rather one-eyed perspective on Edmund's character. Rather like the film's Mr Beaver, I saw the book's numerous asides about Edmund's spitefulness as rather missing the point. "Give him a break," was my attitude. "He's put upon and misunderstood and I, for one, can totally understand the factors that pushed him away from the others and towards the Witch!"
And it was these feelings, dormant but still with me after a quarter of a century, that responded so positively to the way the film depicted Edmund. From the very beginning there was a definite effort to explore the reasons for the mistaken allegiance that he makes in Narnia. Racing back into the family house to retrieve a picture of his father as the bombs rain down, Edmund's only reward is a brutal put down from Peter for his stupidity, signalling the perspective that the film has decided to take on the troubled younger brother. Yes, Edmund does lie and can be cruel and selfish but the film suggests, particularly within these early scenes, the full role that both the loss of his father and his troubled search for identity have played in forming this behaviour. It is Peter whom their mother leaves in charge of the others at the station as they are evacuated and while Susan can, at points, challenge this authority it only serves to leave Edmund with a distressing lack of empowerment. Confusion and pain therefore play a full role alongside jealousy and anger in driving Edmund into the arms of the Witch and the spiral of misfortune that results from this decision.
The film's development of this theme thus considerably reinforces the loving understanding that Aslan directs towards Edmund in the original story. Yes, Aslan must make atonement for Edmund's treachery but included within this atonement is also judgement upon the complex layers of evil that have helped to bring about his destructive behaviour. What I found so helpful from the film, therefore, was its strong message that while Jesus must make atonement for our guilt by his death on the cross, we are not just guilty sinners in his sight. He really does understand the complex hurts, confusions and weaknesses that have helped lead us into the worst and most destructive decisions that we have taken and judgement upon this evil is a full part of the atoning sacrifice that he makes. As a child I remember my relief at the full, heroic role that Edmund is at last allowed to play, this time on the right side, in the battle against the Witch, and the fact that he becomes known as "King Edmund the Just" is a fitting conclusion to the story of his redemption. Having received release from both his own wrong actions and those hurts that played a role in causing them, Edmund really understands the paramount importance of justice. And for those of us who have stumbled into wrong, painful and disastrous turnings in our lives, it offers immense hope. We have a Saviour who can see all those complex factors that have led to the worst things that have happened in our lives and comes to bring us ultimate release from these things alongside the forgiveness of our sins.
Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden.