Biopic of Constantine the Great, set between 293-312 AD, from his days as Tribune to his accession as Roman Emperor of Gaul under the tetrarchy system and ending with his battle against the usurper Roman Emperor Maxentius in Rome.
After her banishment from Rome, Jewish Princess Salome returns to her Roman-ruled native land of Galilee where prophet John the Baptist preaches against Salome's parents, King Herod and Queen Herodias.
Herod, King of Judea, is made a prisoner by the Romans. Convinced the King is dead, his faithful lieutenant, Aaron, is nevertheless unable to keep his promise to kill the Queen if something untoward happened to the King. He leads the young woman out into the desert. Herod's pleas to Augustus are successful and he returns to his palace. His son, Antipater, informs Herod that Aaron has betrayed him.
Somewhat fictionalized dramatic account of Late Roman Emperor Constantine, his rise to power, and his establishment of religious tolerance among Roman subjects. Constantine's adoption of Christianity allowed this small persecuted religion to sweep throughout Europe as the empire's power waned. Written by
This Italian production stars an American born in Hungary (Wilde), a German, and a Brit in key roles. American Cornell Wilde plays Constantine. Livia, a pious Christian woman loved by Constantine's friend Hadrian is played by German prodigy Christine Kauffman (at the age of 18, she was already a veteran). And the tragic British glamor- girl Belinda Lee plays Constantine's devoted wife Fausta (Lee died in a car crash shortly after this film was completed). The rest of the cast rounds out nicely with Italian actors, many of whom are quite good.
The subject matter is, ultimately, the story of Christianity's (really Eastern Orthodoxy) rise from an obscure, persecuted cult to one of Europe's dominant religions through its adoption by one of the great Byzantine Roman conquerors - Emperor Constantine. Those who are not interested in this ideologically and historically important subject should probably avoid this film, because it does, at times, move pretty slowly.
The story is epic and heroic following Constantine, Fausta, Hadrian and Livia from their young adulthood through to Constntine's rise to power and eventual unification of the empire. Constantine is depicted as a brilliant warrior, leader and strategist (which he certainly was) with stability and peace at the heart of his motivations (which is arguable). Much is left out of the story and much is changed. There is no clear indication of Constantine's formidable intellect and education, nor the ambiguity of his motives and alliances. Much of the complex intrigues of Constantine's times is ignored or altered in order to keep the story moving. Even so, the story can be a little hard to follow if you are not already familiar with the history.
The production is generally very good. The acting is fine, though Wilde and Lee are both a little stiff at times, and don't seem to have developed the chemistry appropriate for their roles. Christine Kauffman (Livia), and Fausto Tozzi (Hadrian) are excellent in their important supporting roles. The sets are great, though the occasional and unnecessary bird's eye views of Rome (a miniature) are a bit silly. the costumes are impressively detailed, and the battles are well choreographed and filmed - though it is sometimes hard to figure out what is going on in the battle scenes.
Considering the grand scale of the film, Constantine and the Cross is quite good. I enjoy historical fiction - even when it is more fiction than history - so - had I gone with my own personal enjoyment of this film, I would have given it a 7. It is a good effort to portray an important and under-examined subject. Well worth seeing by those interested in the history of religion, Christians, and movie fans who enjoy epic historical fiction.
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