ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING

PG
Reviews

The Jewish holiday Purim celebrates the Old Testament story of Esther, the nom de rey of a young Jewish woman named Hadassah who married the Persian king Ahasuerus and saved the land's Jews from genocide by Prince Hamen, whose forebears were themselves slaughtered by Jews. This would-be old-fashioned biblical epic, from the faith-based Gener8xion Entertainment, is less a celebration than a lively college lecture, with CGI standing in for landscapes, panoramas and a cast of thousands. One Night with the King is to epic what the Halo games are to warfare.

Still, the story of Esther has endured, despite having no basis in history; while Ahasuerus is considered by scholars to represent Persia's King Xerxes I (the name used in the film and in such others as the 1999 TV movie Esther), Xerxes' queen was Amestris, from a noble Persian family, among other biblical/historical differences. The moral of the story is the real point, emanating from a queen who out of fear has hidden her Judaic faith but eventually reveals all, and against the odds risks her life to advocate for her people's salvation. The Talmudic take on the tale, which in the Bible encompasses nine years of seemingly unrelated events, is that it's God's hand behind "coincidences" that inevitably coalesce. Traditional retellings also suggest the lesson of having faith in the rightness of one's cause-which seems a bit muddled even in the original text, since the conniving and ruthless Hamen is as convinced of his role as a meter of justice as Esther is of her role as her people's rescuer. The Bible is, of course, full of contradictions, so what else is new?

Told with heaping ladles of narration by John Rhys-Davies-who also plays, and quite well, the orphaned Hadassah's uncle Mordecai (he's her cousin in the Bible)-the film wavers between its unconvincing and chemistry-free romantic drama and its much more invigorating political intrigue sparked by Hamen (a nicely intense if oddly hoarse-sounding James Callis, possibly best known as Gaius Baltar on the current "Battlestar Galactica" TV series) and the treacherous Prince Admantha (mesmerizing veteran actor John Noble, a sort of Australian Rip Torn).

The film's production notes speak of a painstaking international casting process for a newcomer to play Esther. And yet they landed an actress with the unlikely name of Tiffany Dupont, who as the petulant young Hadassah/Esther recalls the equally incomprehensible choice of Hayden Christensen as the petulant young Annakin/Vader. Queen Esther as Valley Girl-now there's an interesting take. Hunky British pop singer Luke Goss as King Xerxes has a smile and an easygoing manner that less says "king" than, well, "pop singer"; his ever-changing accent and marble-mouthed diction make him barely intelligible at times. And despite the marvelous Noble, Rhys-Davies and Omar Sharif, as Xerxes' confidant (his Lawrence of Arabia cast-mate Peter O'Toole has exactly one scene), the filmmakers chose to let the cast speak in a hodgepodge of accents that suggests the film's locale may be less Susa, Persia, than the Tower of Babel.