– by Jackie Georgiou

Has preached to millions of people, been knighted by the Queen and advised several US Presidents. He is one of the most influential Christians leaders of our time… 

Many of us know Billy Graham as the self-assured and charismatic preacher who became one of the most important figures of 20th Century Christianity. Now, with the release of ‘Billy: The Early Years’, we meet him as the earnest and promising young man at the crossroads of faith and doubt, ultimately facing the moment of decision that launched one of history’s most powerful evangelistic careers. 

A historical memoir
Most compellingly, ‘Billy: The Early Years’ paints its portrait of Graham against the backdrop of his relationship with Charles Templeton, another gifted young preacher who’s faith could not withstand the onslaught of scientific skepticism. He and Graham parted ways and in the film, Templeton comes to personify the rising tide of disbelief into which Graham launched his crusades.
Filmed in Tennessee, ‘Billy: The Early Years‘ captures the feel of the Depression-era tent revival where a young teenage Graham (16) heeded the altar call, and follows him through the doubt and resolution of the next decade.

From humble beginnings
Scenes show Billy courting his wife, Ruth (whom he met at Wheaton Bible College) and married in 1943. It also briefly covers the birth of their children. (Ruth passed away in 2007 at age 87, but the couple have five children, including Franklin Graham son who runs Samaritans Purse and heads up the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association).

Stepping into destiny
The film was directed by the versatile actor/director Robby Benson (though it must be said it begins rather strangely with an interview with an elderly Templeton…a clumsy start to the film). The biopic comprehensively covers Billy’s journey as a young man born to God-fearing dairy farmers. Billy had a passion for baseball and wanted to become a professional athlete, but this changed when he attended an evangelistic tent crusade led by fiery evangelist Mordecai Ham – the man who led Billy to the Lord.

An admired man
21 year old Hollywood actor, Arnie Hammer plays the lead role as the dapper Graham and put in much prayer into preparing for the role. “They’ve never made a movie about this guy, and beyond any sort of spiritual reasons or anything like that, he is really an iconic figure,” Arnie told reporters at a press junket.
The movie has one amusing scene in which a young Billy is invited to preach – which causes him immense stress; he practises by preaching in the bathroom and to mounted deer heads in the halls of his Bible College. It is an endearing portrayal of an earnest young man finding his feet in the Kingdom and ultimately His calling from God. Graham is believed to have spoken face-to-face with more people in more places than anyone in history, having preached to over 210 million people in over 185 countries. He has been a friend to every US President since Harry Truman and is listed by the Gallup organisation as one of the ‘Ten Most Admired Men in the World’ an unmatched 51 times. 

A challenging role
Portraying a living figure was tough work according to Arnie, “I’ve been going to church and reading my Bible and doing a lot of other spiritual work to get in that right headspace to even start to play someone like Billy Graham.” At the time of the movie’s release shortly before his 90th birthday, Billy Graham had not viewed the movie, but it has been said that his family and association were happy with the rendition (Billy’s daughter Gigi actually helped with the marketing of the movie).

JOY! Magazine (September 2011)

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