The second in a trilogy of movies about Elisabeth "Sissi" of Austria, the film chronicles the married life of the young empress as she tries to adjust to formal and strict life in the palace and an overbearing mother-in-law.
A historical drama set in Roman Egypt, concerning a slave who turns to the rising tide of Christianity in the hopes of pursuing freedom while also falling in love with his master, the famous female philosophy and mathematics professor Hypatia of Alexandria.
Although critics in my native Greece were very circumspect when valuing this movie I disagree with them. Many found that it lacked grandiose crowds in the battle and acclamation of the Pope scenes, but I think that in reality medieval battles and the assembly of Roman plebeians acclaiming the Pope must not have been particularly grandiose events and that added a quality of realism to the movie.
Also the structure of the story, the equivalent of what Germans call Bildungsroman-that is the process of the development of character through life, was presented in a very able manner, showing the evolution of Joan, a simple but charismatic country girl, to supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
The love story subplot was also good adding romance to a tale that would have been dull otherwise and proving that even scholarly girls are not immune to the pleasures of the flesh.
I have to comment on the acting of Ms Wokalek, which I found admirable in the way that it portrayed the subdued power of the character of Joan under a facade of neutral manners and also the surprise role of John Goodman who played a larger than life exuberant and kindly Pope.
The evocation of the age was also excellent avoiding excesses, and presenting the mendacity of peasant life in the villages as well as the relative luxury of the ruling classes.
Of course the main point of the story concerned the barriers that gender and class posed to a talented poor woman during that dark age. I think the story has similarities with that of Joan of Ark. The final surprise, which I will not disclose, must have been a novelistic devise relative to modern concerns about the Church invented by the author of the novel on which the movie was based and not an integral part of the Pope Joan legend as preserved through the ages.
All in all a very able movie which I greatly enjoyed. It is a pity that the response of the Greek critics was at best lukewarm.
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