Last night my husband and I plopped in front of the TV to watch One Night With The King, a movie based on the book of Esther in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Normally, I avoid Christian-made movies, which is a little odd considering that I am an evangelical Christian. They usually fall flat, have bad acting, and are too obvious with their approach to the material.
Knowing my usual reaction to these types of films, I hoped against hope that maybe this movie would get it right. It had actually been released in the movie theaters and had an appealing trailer. Maybe, just maybe they could pull it off.
Yes and no.
The costumes were sumptuous, the computer-generated effects were good, and even some of the director's artistic shots were creative and appealing. However, the problem with the movie wasn't the actors, the shooting, or even the director. Instead, the script failed on several levels. There was lots of fluff and not much "true" substance to the movie. That is not to say that the movie is inaccurate in its rendering of the biblical story. In fact, there are several moments that are lifted, verbatim, from the book of Esther. The trouble arises in the interpretation and spirit of the movie. They got the words right, but the point wrong.
One Night With The King is the Disneyfied, Hollywoodized version of Esther. While watching the film, I kept having images of Ariel and Belle from The Little Mermaid and Beauty And The Beast. Esther is consistently portrayed as a smart, spunky, independent girl who dreams of being queen of Persia and also dreams of returning to Jerusalem, the place of her people's birth--two vastly different motivations that would have been in conflict with each other, yet the filmmakers don't seem to pick up on the illogicity of this depiction. They can't have it both ways. She is either very nationalistic and proud of her Jewish heritage, or she is only minorly attached to it and has dreams of being queen of a pagan empire.
As part if the disneyfication process, King Xerxes and Esther fall madly in love with each other. It's all very romantic. So, why do I care? Well, it undercuts the entire point of the book of Esther. Esther was a woman who was herded into a harem, away from the only family she knew, chosen by the King with no say in the matter for herself. As the queen she would have had more privileges than the average woman, but she still would have been subject to the whims of the king. She would not have been wandering about on her own, unescorted, investigating Haman, and having secret meetings with Mordecai. Expressing her opinion on political matters and being "in charge" of the kingdom while Xerxes is away is simply laughable. She would have been put to death for such scandalous behavior.
In order to fully appreciate the predicament of Esther, the audience must fear King Xerxes. They must know that he could put anyone to death at any time. He can't be a weak king who is unsure of what he should do, constantly consulting advisers, as he is portrayed in the movie. He must be a strong, decisive king who could be ruthless if he so chooses. Sure he could have romantic interest in Esther, but it should always be tempered by the power that he held and the certainty of its use. When Esther approaches the king, the audience should be filled with fear for her. The attempt to conventionalize the love story in modern day terms undercuts that purpose. We don't worry for Esther because there is no need to. The movie has already revealed that the king is crazy about her and set up expectations of a "happy" ending. It ruins the film.
Last but not least, the film is filled with extraneous plot devices and coincidences. Esther owns a special necklace that reveals a Davidic star when it is illuminated by a flame. The necklace keeps appearing and disappearing and is endowed with all these special meanings. It is very cheesy and unnecessary. Coincidences abound as it just so happens, in the movie, that Haman is the murderer of Esther's parents. He dislikes Queen Esther and is suspicious of her. However, in the biblical story he is excited to be invited to her banquet and wants nothing but her royal favor. He is a political opportunist who would never spurn the king or queen directly. He lives for political notice and approval.
In the movie, at the critical point, when Esther reveals her Jewish heritage and persuades the king to oppose Haman's hatred of the Jews, Haman actually assaults the Queen. He is in the process of strangling her when the king--in a perfectly Hollywood way--comes to her rescue. In the Bible, Haman begs Queen Esther for his life. The king sees Haman on the couch where Esther is reclining, thinks he is making advances towards her and instantly orders him to be put to death. That is the ruthlessness of the king. Hang first, ask questions later.
It's a shame that a poor script ruined a good opportunity. The movie had enough money behind it and talented actors to actually have been good. It's disappointing that the script failed in so many ways.