Journey of a Lifetime – Network BD/DVD Review

Newlyweds Anne and John undertake the journey of a lifetime as they traverse the Holy Land – stopping off to visit a wealth of historic places, such as the Dead Sea, Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Petra, Bethlehem, Samaria, Jericho, Emmaus, Judaea and the River Jordan.

For Anne, it’s a chance to see the real places she’d only previously read about in the Bible and serves to strengthen her faith. As for John, whilst he retains an open mind, he’s sceptical about the many miracles chronicled in the Bible. But he’s always prepared to listen and consider ….

Network continue to mine the ABC archive for interesting gems – today they’ve come up with this 39 part series (each episode running for approx 15 minutes) shot in colour by Pathe and broadcast during the early sixties. Only ever seen in the UK in black and white, the series has been newly transferred from the original 35mm Eastmancolor negatives for this BD/DVD release.

Anne Lawson and John Bonney play the doting newlyweds (both actors should be familiar to seasoned archive television viewers). The early episodes were shot mute, so there’s no dialogue or natural sounds (just a spot of rather unconvincing foley work every so often). Anne and John provide a breathless narration whilst Muir Matheson chips in with suitably stirring incidental music.

Anne’s cut-class tones strike a rather unintentional comic note to begin with, but once the couple begin exploring in earnest and the travelogue aspect really kicks in, this becomes less of an issue.

I’ve a feeling that the series was recorded in blocks of 13. The first thirteen episodes feature John and Anne’s narration, but from the fourteenth episode onwards we hear them speak  Which is a bit of a shock to begin with …

This change is to the series’ benefit through – the pair emerge as much more rounded and believable figures once they start to talk to each other.

It’s fair to observe that Journey of a Lifetime has a glossy unreal air (everywhere Anne and John go they’re greeted and shown the sights by helpful smiling locals) but to complain that the programme doesn’t show the reality of life in Israel and Jordan during the early sixties is missing the point – that’s not what the series is about.

Instead, each episode finds our intrepid pair discovering another landmark or location which has some significance to the writings in the Bible – the town of Nazareth, Mount Tabor or the shores of Galilee, say. Anne will soak up the local colour and maybe do some sketching whilst the rational John (taking time off from his job as a water engineer) seeks the truth behind the stories and legends he’s read about.

Although the tone of the series is quite sedate, there’s also room for a little dissention and debate. Fire from Heaven doesn’t shy away from highlighting some of the prophet Elijah’s less admirable moments (such as his massacre of the prophets of Baal).

Since each episode only runs for 15 minutes, the programme is an ideal one to dip in and out of. And with John positioned as a sceptic, this means the tone isn’t a particularly preachy one – so no matter what faith you follow (or indeed if you follow no faith at all) it’s still possible to derive a great deal from Journey of a Lifetime.

Whilst this may be something of a niche release, it’s good to see that Network have brought it out (after all, they’ve always been a company who’ve championed the obscure). It’s been a programme that I’ve enjoyed working my way through and I’m sure I’ll return to it again in the future. Recommended.

Journey of a Lifetime is released on the 5th of April 2021 by Network and can be ordered directly from them (BD or DVD).

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