Priestess: Handmaids of Gods: BBC Documentary

The multi-part BBC documentary series titled Divine Women is produced in three parts. Part two is called Handmaids of Gods. Like the other two installments of the series, part two explores the role of women in world religions, in particular in ancient Greece and Rome. The series is presented by a historian, Bettany Hughes and was directed by Emily Davis. The documentary focuses on showing how women, in pre-Christian religions played crucial roles in the spiritual life of many cultures. In the second episode a line of connection evolution is drawn between the development of the role of the sacred priestess in ancient cultures and the eventual creation of the poet and artist.

The main thrust of the program is to show that women’s experience is not only a vital part of the history of religion and spirituality, but that women, in many instances, occupied positions of power and authority that were even more important than those held by men. The goal of the film is to cast light on the often overlooked contribution that women make to world religions. The point that is made by the film is that one-half of the human experience is based in the perspective of women and this ratio extends into issues of religion and spirituality. For many people this may come as a bit of surprise because many religions, such as the Catholic church openly forbid women from being priests. However, the films’ director, Emily Davis actually



addresses the early days of Christianity and shows that the present day bias against women is not based in as solid a tradition as many would have us believe. As mentioned by Ware in the article . “The Goddess Revival” (1998) “Although the God of the Bible is portrayed in predominantly masculine terms, the reimagined god of the contemporary faith community must be predominantly feminine.” (Ware) this is in order to acknowledge the unlimited capacity of God.

Because the film is a documentary, there is actually no overt plot of story, other than the learning process that is experienced by Bettany Hughes as she investigates long-overlooked aspects of history and the contributions of women to sacred traditions. The story of the film is therefore the way in which this same type of understanding is touched off in the viewer. The characters of the movie are people from history and the experts and analysts who comment on them. As such, the style of makeup, hair, and clothes that are worn are only marginally important to the content of the film. This kind of film, which places and emphasis on substance over style, is often thought of as an educational film. As such, the best way to characterize the film in terms of genre is that is an educational documentary.

While the film never shows any kind of radical break with traditional film-making, it does show a radical break in the kind of subject matter that is being probed. In other words, the form of the film is more or less standard documentary, but its topic is one that most people will have had little experience with in their past. This is both the reason that the film is so engrossing and also why it is so important. The significance of the film is that it challenges the chauvinistic ideas that many of us carry around in our minds in regard to gender and religion and it does so in a way that flatters rather than insults the viewer’s intelligence. While it is certainly possible that the film might be seen as controversial to some people, the director was very careful to establish historical evidence for all of her major points. The theme of the film fits very well with its non-linear narrative form. this is due to the fact that the subject being discussed also has a long, non-linear history of development throughout human history.

Work Cited

Ware, Bruce A. “The Goddess Revival.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41.2 (1998): 328+.