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Katherine of Alexandria, brought up as a nomad and living in the desert, was aged just 11 when Emperor Maxentius saw her whilst out on patrol. Consumed by her beauty, impudence and uncanny talent for languages, he abducted the child, killing her family. The slaughter was witnessed by her young friend, Constantine, who would later become Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. He never lost hope of finding Katherine. As a young woman, Katherine refused to submit to Maxentius' offers of marriage and she continually denounced his brutal enforcement of pagan religion upon the masses. Still obsessed with her beauty, Maxentius brought Katherine before 50 of Rome's finest scholars in an open court in Alexandria, where she eloquently demolished their arguments. When Constantine learned of Katherine's whereabouts and imprisonment at the hands of Maxentius, he led his army from York in a desperate bid to save her. Written by
"Decline of an Empire" (also known as "Katherine of Alexandria") marks the final film for Peter O'Toole. Because of this, I was very anxious to see this film. Now, in hindsight I really regret this. Instead of a last chance to see this wonderful actor, I now remember this as a truly dull and awful film--and O'Toole's legacy deserved better than this. Thankfully, his great films will always overshadow films like "Decline of an Empire". The sooner we forget about it and go on, the better.
The story is about a martyred saint, Katherine of Alexandria, a woman who might have lived during the fourth century. I say might because there seems to be little evidence that she actually existed and her life and martyrdom are based on traditions rather than concrete facts. These traditions, interestingly, began about 500 years after her supposed death--further adding weight to the notion that she is a myth. Still, it could make for a very interesting story--especially as it's set during the waning days of the old Roman Empire. Soon, Christianity would become accepted and no longer persecuted--and this is an incredibly interesting period of change and upheaval. As a retired history teacher and film lover, I wanted to love this film and the plot seemed like it was right up my alley. So why did the film go so wrong?
Like too many recent 'epics', the film was obviously made on a micro- budget. This could work in some cases, but seeing scenes where a dozen or so men constitute a major Roman battle is laughable. This can also be said of scenes involving cities like Rome and Alexandria--places consisting of a tiny handful of actors instead of thriving metropolises. There is nothing epic about this...it's just sad and cheap. The dialog is also ponderous beyond belief. So much of it seemed to make little sense and my attention span waned throughout the movie. Much of it just boggled my mind at how dull and silly it sounded coming out of real live people. Additionally, it sure sounded as if many of the characters in the film were performed by actors who didn't understand English and were merely delivering their lines phonetically. Too often, bizarre accents and odd annunciations derailed important scenes and left the viewer confused and bored. This combined with the dull dialog mentioned above really made the film difficult to enjoy.
The film also kept referring to Egyptians as 'Arabs'. Egyptians might speak a variation on Arabic today, but in the 4th century, when this film is set, the Egyptians had not yet been conquered by the Arabs (which happened several hundred years later) and ethnically they were North Africans. No ancient Roman would have called Egyptians Arabs. I know that this is the history teacher in me talking once again--but this and other historical inaccuracies guarantee that even history teachers won't like this dull film.
I could probably go on a bit more why I hated this film. Suffice to say it had little of O'Toole or the other fine older actors Edward Fox and Joss Acklund--so there's little for their fans in this movie. Their presence was very limited and they often seemed a bit lost in the film. And, even for nostalgia value, it wasn't even enjoyable. A sadly awful film. And, incidentally, as I watched it, my older daughter kept begging me to turn it off...and she, like me, usually loves things about the ancient world. I am sorry for putting you through this, Sarah.
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