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One Night With the King
"One Night with the King"
All the production money in the world isn't going to get this magnificent looking biblical clunker past the critics. There's never been a greater disparity between the look of a film and its dramatic composition. From casting to dialogue, it's a retro extravaganza of poor creative judgement and showcase talent in the lead roles.
Excluding, of course, Omar Shariff and John Rhys-Davies, two perennials who can do no wrong to any performance. Is it any wonder that the latter shares the billing with the starlet of the pic, Tiffany Dupont? Shouldn't she be sharing credit with her "king?" Someone in the publicity department is judging the film with an objective eye and realizes that Lukas Goss isn't going to account for much traffic at the boxoffice.
The picture's biblical pedigree is once or twice removed, being scripted by Stephan Blinn from Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen's historical novel, "Hadassah" which focuses on an uncommonly beautiful Jewish orphan with the title name Hadassah (Tiffany Dupont) who has been raised by her uncle Mordecai (John Rhys-Davies), a highly educated scribe for King Xerxes (Luke Goss). As a result of his training, she has become an articulate young woman with extensive knowledge of literature and religion mixed with a young girl's passions and an outgoing, inquisitive personality.
This places her in an advantageous position when Xerxes deposes his wife for failing to accomodate his command to join him in an important feast, and sets him on a search for a new queen. No good looking woman is safe from his troops' abduction of pretty women from there in the capital city of Susa and throughout the land. Haddassah, of course, isn't spared.
When she is finally brought before the king for a first "interview," she is advised by the chief Eunich Lister who more or less runs the details of the castle, to sit on a bench and read from administrative scrolls that record state accounts. As she reads, she sees the royal one behind a curtain working on a pair of statuettes, feigning boredom, masking any interest. Hadassah, now representing herself as Esther of Susa and hiding her Jewish heritage, departs from the royal accounting into a parable, a bit of playfulness that doesn't go unnoticed.
In fact, this part of the script is a high point of credibility, setting the stage for his choosing her to share his throne in a delightful progression of courtship stages. If the rest of the screenplay would be so nicely tailored.
Underlying what might have been a rich tapestry of peace and romance is the evil plot to destroy all the Jews in the kingdom. The plotter is Hamen (James Callis), the son of a queen whose people were destroyed by the Jews in an earlier time, as briefly outlined in a prologue (in which Peter O'Toole shows up). Now a scheming anti-semite avenger with a small following, Hamen works his way up in the royal hierarchy in a series of well planned and exucuted betrayals, especially in the exposing of Prince Admantha's (John Noble) plot to obtain the crown. His cunning is further realized when, as a now trusted ally, he causes a rift between the royal couple.
He then promotes his grand plan by presenting the Jews as a threat to the crown requiring their annihilation. In a state meeting over it, he comes up against Prince Memucan (a splendid Omar Sharif) who counters Hamen's argument as specious and a dangerous misadventure. Could this be an intentional reflection on George Bush and his republican neocon enablers over the Iraq debacle?
The danger a madman like Haman poses is brought to a boiling point when Xerxes appoints him in charge, to run Babylon, while he, the king, leads his troops in a war against the Greeks. But before Hamen can run a dagger through Hadassah/Esther and exterminate the Jews, Xerxes sees the light in the form of a supernatural, spiritual emanation from her necklace. Of such convenient plot threads is this movie woven.
Of primary interest is Tiffany Dupont, a relative newcomer ("The Bedford Diaries" TV episodes) with starlet written all over her. It's not her acting ability, however, where the interest lies but, rather, in the choice of a so-far thin talent being charged to carry a very big epic movie. The same can be said for Luke Goss whose role as the king might have stemmed from his resemblance to Eric Bana. The talent level chosen to fill these robes, unfortunately, are hardly deserving of a scepter.
Besides the few old pros who show up within the corridors and on the ramparts, the memorability of this one night is for its visual oppulence. No expense spared. Cinematography, art direction, production design, costume design, action choreography, and makeup are all as worthy of epic scale as it is possible to be. But the artistry in these quarters doesn't spill over onto a stock, old timey script conception under the command of cliche' direction by Michael Sajbel ("The Ride"). So much magnificence for so little magnitude.
~~ Jules Brenner
The Bible - Esther
(An earlier film on DVD)
The Bible - Esther