Marcus Vinicius meets Lygia in Rome and falls in love. But she is Christian and doesn't want anything to do with him. Marcus decides to kidnap her but Ursus, her bodyguard, catches Marcus. ... See full summary »
Returning to Rome after three years in the field, General Marcus Vinicius meets Lygia and falls in love with her, though as a Christian she wants nothing to do with a warrior. Though she grew up Roman, the adopted daughter of a retired general, Lygia is technically a hostage of Rome. Marcus gets Emperor Nero to give her to him for services rendered but finds himself succumbing gradually to her Christian faith. Written by
John Oswalt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This movie has its virtues, but subtlety is not among them. It opens with a narrator telling us what to think about the story we're about to see, and closes with a hymn sung over the end credits. In between Peter Ustinov plays Nero, and we know he must be mad because he pouts and rolls his eyes and chews every carpet in sight. Was this performance the inspiration for Jennifer Saunder's Eddy on ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS? Watch Nero's blubbering tantrum after he reads Petronius's letter, and you'll see what I mean.
The movie is visually sumptuous and (at least until the last hour or so) pretty entertaining, but every time the script diverges from the novel to engineer "big" Hollywood moments Peter orating from the stands of the Colosseum, the climactic palace revolution, etc. the action descends into melodrama and the acting seems very dated. The film gets preachier as it goes along, which is unfortunate; the filmmakers don't seem confident that the images and situations can speak for themselves, so the message is shouted at the audience: Nero bad, Christians good! Well, yes, but because the prudish 1950s film-making won't show the Christians actually suffering as they're crucified (they sing hymns and look heavenward), there's no real emotional involvement. We're told what to think, but we're not made to feel anything.
Two other versions, the 2001 Polish television series and the 1985 Italian mini-series truly profound productions that capture the dark genius of Sienkiewicz's novel (and the terror of Nero's reign) are both so vastly superior that they can't even be compared to this campy Hollywood extravaganza.
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