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The good thief and the crafty princess

Author: Chip_douglas from Rijswijk, ZH, Netherlands
20 September 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Okay, the VPRO obviously spend some hard old fashioned guilders producing this historical play based on Herodotus (Histories book II.121 to be precise). The first in a series by Jan Blokker and Krijn ter Braak as the end credits say. The sets are lavish, the masks and headgear extravagant (though naturally the costumes are rather skimpy, this is set in Egypt after all). They even went and filmed some footage in Egypt that mostly consists of the titular character played by John van Leeuwarden working on a big fake statue of Pharaoh Ton van Duinhoven while slaves pass by carrying Styrofoam stone blocks. Unfortunately, none of these real Egyptian extras take the effort to make it look like they are actually lifting a great weight. After all of this, the producers apparently didn't have any money left over to spend on a composer and opted to use preexisting music by Ennio Morricone instead. Therefore this Television play opens with the famous 'Harmonica' theme from Once Upon a time in the west, which might sound impressive to anyone who doesn't recognize it, but will immediately pull every other viewer out of it completely. Luckily the temp track settles on slightly less familiar Morricone material for the rest of the running time.

Lots of spoilers and plot details for the next two paragraphs:

Ton van Duynhoven gets to do one of his typical over the top performances as an unidentified Pharaoh obsessed with building his final resting place during the 7th year of his reign. Meanwhile a poor old man (Johan Boskamp) asks his sons on his deathbed to make sure they embalm him and pay the last respect. So the two brothers (Van Leeuwarden and Ruud van Hemert) sneak into the Pharaoh's pyramid at night and steal two urns filled with silver Babylonian braces. Unfortunately their small hoard is not enough to cover the expenses and when they return, a trap has been set. One of them walks straight into it and when he is unable to free himself, the other decides to cut his own brother's head so neither of them can be identified. The crafty princess (Cox Habbema), who came up with the plan to trap them in the first place, then has the body of the brother put on display all around the land to see if any woman recognizes a former lover.

The thief, who is also no slouch in the brain department, manages to steal back his brother's body. More intrigued then ever, the Pharaoh's daughter decides to offer the greatest gift of all (even greater than Soleil Moon Frye dressing up like Punky Brewster for her one million Twitter followers): her body for the man who dares to confess the crime. The smart thief then begins to play a game of cat and mouse with the princess. First he sends an old sick man to tell part of his story, then he dares to venture into the royal palace himself and leaves his dead brother's arm with her lady in waiting (who is acting as a decoy for the princess). Unable to get out of the palace, the thief flees into the treasury where it all began. Of course the princess is the only one who figures it out, catches him, keeps up her end of the bargain and has him arrested. But just when the disgraced Pharaoh is passing judgment, she convinces him to spare the thief and make him the new high priest.

End spoilers.

At first glance this television play may seem a bit too broad and the characters too loud but once you get into it, there are actually some very funny performances and allusions to the modern language to be found. Besides Ton van Duinhoven and his entire entourage being very over the top, the Princess and the Thief (and indeed all of his relatives) play it straight, which brings a nice contract. There is also some funny editing in various scenes where people are running up and down the same corridor a la Doctor Who (and the Pharaoh is being carried naturally). It will be interesting to see the other Herodotus stories adapted by the team of Blokker & Ter Braak, but it probably won't be easy to find "De Steen" and "Gyges en Kandaules".

8 out of 10

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