Several years ago, someone recommended a few “Christian” films, and being interested, I followed up on the recommendation. The films were so cheaply produced, they could at best be considered B-movies. The stories were dumb, the direction uninspired, and the acting… well, forget the acting. There were some recognizable names in the cast, but they didn’t seem to think their roles were worth their efforts, so they didn’t make any. I have assiduously avoided all films labeled “Christian” since then.
Affirm Films, a unit of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, specializes in uplifting, inspirational movies. Last year one of their films, Fireproof, was playing “in a church near you.” Starring the darling of Christian movie-making, Kirk Cameron, it was a saving-a-marriage story. I’m too old to have been smitten by Kirk Cameron when he was a television heart-throb, and I’m stuck in a deliriously happy marriage, so I had no incentive to see it. I’d also sworn off “uplifting, inspirational” movies in which earnest people pray a lot.
The Bible Stories: Esther is an Affirm Films production. The story of Esther is about a brave woman who defies death to save her race. This story is taken from one of the books of the Old Testament, The Book of Esther, but to enjoy this story one need not be a Christian, a Jew, or a Bible scholar. Esther’s story tells us that one person can make a difference; it’s an empowering tale. Whether you believe that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by God, literally true, or fiction shouldn’t affect how you view this story.
The first shock in The Bible Stories: Esther is the production values. This is not a cheap, schlocky production. The locations, the sets, the props, and the costumes all add up to an expensively made film. The lighting and sound recording are what we expect in a good movie. So what about the story? Bible stories leave a lot to the imagination, and when put in the hands of writers anything can happen. The Bible is a narrative that offers some, but not all that much, dialogue. Most movies rely on dialogue to tell the story. Here is shock number two: The Bible Stories: Esther sticks to the original story. Invention was required to fill out the dialogue and to carry the story along, but it works within the framework. I was stunned to see that the events depicted are the events described in The Book of Esther. This film is a lesson in how to make a faithful adaptation; it is not “based on The Book of Esther”; it is The Book of Esther. In essence, it is the simple account of a woman who was willing to take a stand, no matter the cost.
Louise Lombard (CSI) stars as Hadassah, a young woman who is rounded up with all the other local virgins so that King Ahaseurus of Persia can choose a new queen. This doesn’t work like Cinderella; the women are trained for a year in the art of pleasing the king and then they spend a night with him. After he samples them it’s off to the concubine department, where the ex-virgins spend their lives, hoping the king will call for them a second time. Hadassah, on the advice of her cousin Mordecai (F. Murray Abraham) assumes the name Esther and pretends she is not a Jew.
King Ahaseurus (Thomas Kretschmann) is a numbskull, at least in this film. His former queen was dethroned because she refused to drop by a party he was having; he ordered her to appear before his friends in her royal get-up and she refused. Since the party had been going on for a good six months, it would be safe to assume the king and his pals have imbibed a little too much wine. His friends and advisors tell him he’s got to do something big or he will look like a fool and all wives will disrespect their husbands. The chump falls for it, waking up the next day calling for Vashti, who is now history. Hence the virgin round-up. He was desolate at the loss of his Queen whom he could not reinstate, but when one of his buddies suggests the parade of virgins, he perks right up. After a night with Esther he has found the love of his life, his new queen. Being queen, by the way, is no bed of roses. She can not approach her husband unless he sends for her; to do so would be penalized by death. She can not, unaccompanied, speak to a man—penalty, death.
Conflict in the story is provided by Haman (Jurgen Prochnow) who is so incensed that Mordecai will not bow down to him he decides to kill all the Jews. Mordecai will not bow to anyone but God, and he won’t budge on the subject. The Bible Stories: Esther is punctuated with political posturing and intrigues as a variety of characters jockey for power. To this end, Haman manages to first put himself in a humiliating situation and then brings about his own destruction, all the while being egged on by his battle-axe wife.
According to Sony’s press information, The Bible Stories: Esther was “created by the largest television co-production in history, and (was) shot on location in Morocco and Malta with a production team that included Christian, Jewish and Muslim scripture scholars.” The result of this effort is a visually sumptuous film that combines romance and heroism to effectively retell a very old story.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent The Bible Stories: Esther? Yes. The re-creation of ancient Persia and the retelling of an ancient story combine to provide a meaningful and absorbing video experience. There are no special features included on this DVD.