The Pilgrim’s Progress Movie

The movie version of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, which included some creative liberties, was faithful to the themes of the classic allegory and fueled a delightful family discussion about the differences between the book and the movie.

Can a movie measure up?

It can be difficult for me to watch a film version of a well-loved book, because usually the discrepancies are unbearable. My 7yo son expressed his reservations when I bought tickets, but we watched a trailer and I was fairly certain that these producers would handle the story carefully.

After an introduction by Kristyn Getty, in which she briefly describes the historical context and the importance of sanctified imagination, the story opens before Christian finds The Book which sets him out on his journey.

The story begins

Someone has escaped the City of Destruction, and the dignified demon Overseer and his assistant have put Christian, Obstinate, and others in charge of cleaning out the abandoned living quarters. There Christian is intrigued by a book and becomes obsessed with reading it, much to the dismay of his wife.

Fearful of the prophesied destruction of the city and burdened by his guilt, he follows the advice of Evangelist and escapes. Obstinate and Pliable follow to bring him back, and Christian convinces Pliable to go with him, until they end up in the “Swamp of Despond” (instead of the Slough) and go their separate ways. Christian meets Help, who rescues and repeatedly assures him that help will always be provided if he asks for it.

Meanwhile, the demon Overseer reports to Apollyon that another citizen has fled. (I thought these scenes were reminiscent of Screwtape and Wormwood’s collaboration, though my husband disagreed.) This news is not received well, and after a legion of demons fails to hinder the pilgrim’s flight through the gate, Apollyon promises to deal with Christian himself.

There are moments of humor and creative license: the sturdy watchman uses a staff to beat off the flying demons; Worldly Wiseman’s counsel sends Christian to a mountain of contradictory laws that cannot be simultaneously obeyed; the House of the Interpreter (a female character voiced by Kristyn Getty) seemed magical. Most of these provide subtle explanations of the allegory while keeping Bunyan’s story intact (except for the magical Interpreter’s House). Of course it is difficult to include a full cast of characters and instructive events in a two-hour movie, but we did miss some of our favorites. (THIS is why we read the book first, right?)

When Apollyon appears to Christian, it is first as a somber man in black who tempts him with concern for his family and urges him to return to the city. Christian refuses, Apollyon transforms into the hideous beast we know him to be, and the heated battle modeled on action movie sequences ensues.

This is one place that particularly differs from the original. In Bunyan’s version, Christian sees Apollyon no more after the battle. In the movie, Apollyon promises to return, which he does at Christian’s death so that the story can drive home a theological point.

Fellowship of the Pilgrims

Remember the character who escaped at the beginning of the story, leaving The Book behind? Christian catches up with him, his friend Faithful, and Evangelist meets them again before they reach Vanity Fair. In Vanity Fair the two defend their testimony, which is of great interest to one of the guards, who is of African descent. Sure enough, when Christian loses one brother, he gains another. Although the only Africans in England would have been slaves during Bunyan’s time, I appreciate this recognition that the church of Jesus Christ is not monochromatic.

My favorite humor was found in the portrayal of Giantess Diffidence, Giant Despair’s wife, while Christian and Hopeful are languishing in Doubting Castle. Without compromising the malice of her character towards the pilgrims, her self-pity and manipulation of her husband are a delight.

Nearing the end of their journey, the pilgrims meet first the Shepherd (a stereotype portrayal of Jesus) and then the Flatterer, before reaching the river they must cross to reach the Celestial City. I don’t know why they made the river look like a wall, or why they didn’t have Christian and Hopeful cross together as in the book, but a threat is fulfilled before Christian safely arrives and meets the King before he is reunited with his friends. Before the end credits roll a sequel is promised, so we will have to wait for it.

Family discussion

My family missed certain minor characters who provided occasion for the pilgrims to have theological conversations, or warning against turning aside from the straight and narrow path. We missed the Valley of the Shadow of Death and the Enchanted Ground.

We thought that the quality of the graphics was inconsistent. In general, the animation of the scenery and villains was better than the main character, which was frustrating when we saw the skill that could have been applied. We agreed that there was something “Gollum-ish” about Apollyon, a second nod to the work of the Inklings (C.S. Lewis and Tolkien). Although the pre-escape scene dragged on in the beginning, Vanity Fair was just right.

As a whole, the Pilgrim’s Progress movie was a satisfying finale to our experience with Dangerous Journey and Bunyan’s original allegory. This film version is compatible with the printed page–after you read the book first.

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Megan Saben

Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader, and she loves nothing more than discovering Truth and Story in literature. She is the author of Something Better Coming, and is quite particular about which pottery mug is best suited to her favorite hot drinks throughout the day. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia.

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  1. kimmysue on May 1, 2019 at 10:26 am

    We saw the movie at a showing at our church and liked it. I’ve never read the original. *Cringe.* I’d like to read it with my kids (age 9 and 4). Would you recommend a kids version? Or waiting for the actual? What age would you recommend? We read aloud a lot and my kids are very mature listeners. Thanks!!

    • Megan Saben on May 1, 2019 at 11:06 am

      So glad you asked!! We’re working on collecting our Pilgrim’s Progress resources to make them more accessible. We’re going to be covering Pilgrim’s Progress in a variety of forms this month, so stay tuned! I read Dangerous Journey to my boys every October for five years, so the scaffolding was definitely in place. My boys are 12, 9, 7, 5 and 2. This past year we started the volume published by Christian Focus, and I really liked it because it contained just the right amount of helpful information in the back and Scripture references in the text so you could look up the theological proofs. Dangerous Journey has marvelous, vivid pictures that can be scary for sensitive children, but it was highly appealing to my boys.

  2. Emily on May 1, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    I don’t know if this is popular opinion around here but I just finished Little Pilgrim’s Progress with my 9 and 6 year old and we all loved it equally. Still beautifully written and relatable fornthem. I’d definitely recommend it!

  3. Abbey on May 1, 2019 at 10:55 pm

    I just read the book to my kids 7 and 5. They were GLUED. Even though they didn’t grasp all the allegories they still understood the battles between good/evil, the Christian and the world, etc. It provoked good questions and discussions too. I can’t wait to read it again.
    I grew up with this version and love the story and illustrations.

    Pilgrim’s Progress

  4. KT on May 2, 2019 at 8:14 am

    I gave Dangerous Journey to my relatively sensitive 7 year old for her birthday, somewhat forgetting the vivid images (despite watching the Dangerous Journey animation countless times as a kid), remembering only that my younger brother read The Little Pilgrim’s Progress version on repeat at a similar age. I was surprised to find that because of the scaffolding of the story itself, she wasn’t scared by it at all. While I’m sure a lot of it was beyond her, I firmly believe that repeated readings will provide, as mentioned above, a scaffolding for her.

    I am going to hold off before introducing my equally sensitive, prone-to-nightmares 4 year old to the text.

    I look forward to introducing the film once all are old enough to enjoy it!

  5. John on November 5, 2021 at 6:17 am

    Sorry for necropost.

    Amazon seems to be selling two different . . . “versions?” of the film. Only difference I can see is their listed studio – one is Dreamscape Media, LLC and the other is the other is Vision Video. I’ve tried searching the difference but am not finding anything. Is it a region thing, like North American BluRays don’t play on players in the European Union and vice versa (and if so, which version is for which region)?

    • Janie Cheaney on November 6, 2021 at 5:16 am

      I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that. You might try contacting Revelation Media, which is, I believe, the distributor.

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