The Film of Esther — again

The Film of Esther — again May 11, 2005

A Hollywood Reporter article on the recent trend of marketing films to Christians includes this surprising tidbit near the end:

Marcos DeMattos, vp at Gener8Xion Entertainment, a new firm which plans to release films that appeal specifically to those audiences, says Christians should be aware of being exploited for studio gain — particularly when Buena Vista also releases considerably more secular adult fare under its Miramax arm. “In Christendom, double-minded endeavors are not well-regarded,” he says.

DeMattos sees his company as the anti-Disney and will release its first film later this year, a biblical epic called “One Night With the King,” starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. The film currently lacks a distributor and a firm release date, but the ground seems primed for success: Its potential audience gathers once a week in churches nationwide.

That “new firm” and “first film” talk is a little odd, since Gener8Xion was responsible for the two Omega Code movies — so I wouldn’t expect a high degree of quality here. But as a sucker for biblical epics, and as a big fan of Lawrence of Arabia (1962), the film that first combined O’Toole and Sharif, I am definitely intrigued.

According to the IMDB, the film in question is based on the story of Esther, and co-stars John Rhys-Davies as her cousin and mentor Mordecai. Sharif plays Memucan, the Persian noble who advised Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) to divorce his first queen Vashti, while O’Toole plays a prophet named Samuel — either this is a completely non-biblical addition to the story, or there will be a flashback to the execution of the Amalekites at the biblical Samuel’s orders, which might explain why Haman, an Amalekite himself, wanted to kill the Jews some centuries later.

There have been a few movies about Esther before. There was at least one silent film on the subject; Joan Collins and Richard Egan co-starred in Esther and the King (1960); and the Bible Collection included a film about Esther (1999; my review), co-starring F. Murray Abraham as Mordechai and Jürgen Prochnow as Haman. Most interestingly of all, Israeli director Amos Gitai directed a semi-modernized version of the story in 1986 (my comments), which questioned the role the celebration of this story may have played in encouraging Jewish antipathy towards Palestinians.

Incidentally, I note that the IMDB says O’Toole and Sharif have collaborated on four other films since Lawrence: The Night of the Generals (1967), The Rainbow Thief (1990), the TV-movie Gulliver’s Travels (1996) and — get this — an upcoming film called Gilgamesh, based on the ancient Mesopotamian myth! Again, as an ancient mythology buff, I am kind of intrigued by this last film, but I see that it is directed by Roger Christian, whose Masterminds (1997) and Battlefield Earth (2000) were among the worst films I have ever seen. (I don’t remember his 1994 film Nostradamus well enough to say what I thought of it, but I guess it wasn’t as bad as the others, since it didn’t sear itself into my memory as such.)

MAY 12 UPDATE: I just found out that One Night with the King has an official website and a very long trailer, which makes heavy use of the English version of Enya’s ‘Book of Days’, here.

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