THE film Redeeming Love (Cert. 15) poses quite a dilemma. Do we take at face value Francine Rivers’s much-vaunted bestseller as about a man’s unconditional love for a deeply wronged woman? Or is it valid to claim that this is an authentic adaptation of the Book of Hosea, complete with allegorical elements regarding the eighth-century BC prophet’s relationship to a prostitute?
Truth to tell, most of the Old Testament dimensions have been jettisoned. Hosea’s mission was to urge the northern kingdom of Israel to return to the Lord’s ways. As his name suggests, only God saves, not the idolatry and malpractices that it currently practised. Unlike its biblical source, the film is apolitical, centring on Sarah (Abigail Cowen), who becomes known as Angel and sold to a brothel owner as a child. Now 18, she is much in demand by prospectors in the California Gold Rush of 1850.
There is a passing resemblance to Gomer, with whom the original Hosea had a disastrous marriage. The film gives us a lot more detail of Sarah’s brutalisation as a woman, sympathetically portraying her as a victim rather than the wayward person of the Old Testament story.
And then there is Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis), a dirt farmer praying for a wife. God’s answer is for him to catch sight of Angel passing him on the street. It feels more like a moment from The Divine Comedy when Dante experiences a life-changing encounter with Beatrice. The town bears the ironic name of Pair-a-Dice, which is pronounced throughout the film as very like Paradise. At a later point, Angel is befriended, like the poet, by someone called Virgil as she navigates various circles of hell.
The course of true love does not run smooth. There are numerous trials and tribulations en route. The Sarah/Angel character is the more credible of the pair, although, even there, her behaviour is erratic. We are never really enabled to understand Michael’s constancy, admirable as it is. Cindy Bond, CEO and founder of Mission Pictures, which produced this film, has said: “Michael’s love changes Angel because it’s unconditional. He wants nothing from her. He just purely loves her with no strings attached, just like Jesus loved and died for us.”
Unfortunately, as with a previous feature of the company, God’s Not Dead 2 (Arts, 29 April 2016), there is little indication of how these people of faith deal so amicably with life’s awkward issues. Mentioning Jesus seems to be their one and only answer. Well, yes, but could we hear a few more details regarding this, please?
The production values of Redeeming Love are of a high standard. Given that Mission Pictures’ remit is to distribute family-friendly movies, this one doesn’t shy away from scenes of an upsetting nature, sex-trafficking playing an important part. The villainy, however, is all too predictable. Equating the covenantal intimacy of marriage — crucial to the Book of Hosea — with God’s love of us is all but absent. That needn’t have been the case in a film that wears its faith so conspicuously on its sleeve.