Universal tasked us with encouraging the cinephile audience of The Times to go and see Mary Magdalene – a film that shone new light on a follower of Christ more usually depicted as a whore.
The filmmaker wanted to broaden the audience beyond a religiously engaged one and inspire Times readers to discover the untold story behind one of the most misunderstood women in history. At the same time it was important to communicate the pedigree of the film’s director Garth Davis (Lion, Top of the Lake) and its stars Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
To achieve these aims, we set out to reposition Mary Magdalene away from her conventional image as a fallen woman redeemed by Jesus, and show her as a strong female figure who defied the conventions of the day to spread the gospel.
To do this we commissioned the sign maker and glass gilder Alex May Hughes to create a bespoke hand-painted glass portrait of Mary Magdalene. This stunning and contemporary image appeared on the front page of a wraparound that was published with The Times features section Times2. Incorporating gold leaf and pearl shell to give the artwork texture and depth, Hughes’ work expressed Mary Magdalene’s reappraisal while giving a nod to her traditional portrayal in churches across the world.
The chief art critic of The Times Rachel Campbell-Johnston explored how the representation of Mary Magdalene in art has changed to fit the political and social mores of each era, and how the modern image of Mary and her story is a reflection of the changing appraisal of female influence and status in history.
This feature was supported by an in-depth interview with the film’s producers and writers, investigating how they approached the retelling of the biblical story. Another article explored why this ancient tale of an under-estimated woman resonates more than ever today.
Watch our behind-the-scenes shoot of artist Alex May Hughes creating the stunning Mary Magdalene cover art.