Esther and the King Reviews
March 15, 2010
The Korean War, The Vietnam War, the Kennedy Assasination, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Hippie Era defined the mid-20th century as a time of strife and protest with peace nearing the verge of the impossible dream. Enter Hollywood, and then there was light . . . sort of, as the Biblical epic took command of the big screen with stars like Charlton Heston, Robert Taylor, Victor Mateur, and Anthony Quinn. On the heels of the 1959 smash-hit, Ben-Hur, director Raoul Walsh churned out this obscure biblical romance starring Joan Collins as Esther, the Jewish queen of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), who saved her people from annihilation in the wake of the Persian conquest.
King Ahasuerus (Richard Egan) returns from a dangerous campaign of global acquisition to find that his wife, Queen Vashti (Daniela Rocca), has been unfaithful. Unbeknowst to him, her lover is none other than the vile and calculating vizier, Haman (Sergio Fantoni), whose thirst for power is made bitter by the efforts of Mordechai (Denis O'Dea), the king's loyal chief adviser. When Vashti's promiscuity leads to her banishment, Persian law demands that Ahasuerus remarry. To do so, he must choose from the kingdom's most beautiful virgins, one of whom is Esther, Mordechai's niece, and the epitome of the gentle, but resilient heroine. With hostility towards the Jews on the rise, Esther keeps her faith a secret from the court and the king, for whom she has developed an affection. When Haman's conspiracies threaten to destroy all the Jews in Persia, however, Esther must sacrifice all that she has gained for the sake of her people, despite the risk that she herself may be the first to perish beside them.
Biblical films bear the irony of depicting the struggles of God's faithful subjects in less than faithful adaptations. Esther and the King is no exception. The film exercises the phrase "based on . . ." in the broadest sense, as there is little historical, much less biblical, accuracy. History buffs may be shocked and appalled to hear that Ahasuerus, also known as Xerxes I (of 300 fame), is launching a campaign against Alexander the Great rather than Leonidas. Or, they might just be intrigued that in a era when it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it was for an actress to show some leg on screen, Daniela Rocca exhibits more legs and breast than a flyer for KFC. Bible study groups might be put off by the love triangle between Esther, Ahasuerus, and Simon (Rick Bataglia), Esther's betrothed, who does not appear in the Bible. For those who are in it for the romance, however, a shirt-less Richard Egan will suffice, and comedy lovers may find a laugh or two for a few very mild fight-scenes with a few very boisterous soundtracks likened to a pairing of the Hallelujah Chorus with the birth of an ant. As off-track as it is from the original tale, however, Esther and the King has its fine points with brilliant performances by Collins and Egan, who exact an innocent, but riveting chemistry on screen, and a well executed villain-role by Fantoni as the conniving Haman. Overall, a film that harnesses a "must-see" label in the category of Biblical dramas, but one that shall nevertheless remain obscure, forever and forever. Amen.