• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Saturday, January 18, 2014

    The Story of David (1976)

    Somewhere in the 70s someone decided it was OK to do away with even the pretence of authenticity in casting biblical films and just go for sun-bleached blonds instead. So we get Ted Neeley and the super-blond Robert Elfstrom playing Jesus in 1973, Blanche Baker and Jeff East taking the lead roles in Mary and Joseph: A Story of Faith and, as the decade wore on, a whole range of implausibly Anglo-Saxon actors taking all manner of roles in the Greatest Heroes of the Bible.

    So whilst Timothy Bottoms and Keith Mitchell are, admittedly, not quite as yellowy as Elfstrom, the casting director certainly can't have ranked "Middle Eastern looking" too highly on her list of attributes required to play history's most famous Jewish king. That's not all that will stand out to modern viewers, either. The photography is, perhaps, best described as "very seventies": it's all Instagrammy high exposure and lemon tinting, making the Kingdom of Israel seem surprisingly innocent for a world where at any moment you could get asked to whip up 100 foreskins as a dowry.

    Sadly that incident is one of the few that The Story of David leaves out (although a rather icky bag is handed out after David's return). At roughly three hours, there's pleasingly good coverage of David's life, and the filmmakers make good use of the two-part format by dealing with events in 1 Samuel in part 1 and covering the events of 2 Samuel in episode 2.

    One of the film's big selling points is it's cast. In addition to Bottoms and Mitchell in the title role there are three big name actors, Jane Seymour, Brian Blessed and Anthony Quayle. Quayle's portrayal of Saul is the most memorable performance. Both the Bible itself and many of the other films about David portray Saul in a poor light, but Quayle's performance combines with the scripts best writing to give real sympathy to the Benjamite monarch, reticent to carry out the inhumane actions that Samuel demands after years of service. Later when Saul needs David's music to calm him, he's clearly afflicted. It's a moment of sympathy when so often this scene is used to buttress the reasons why Saul needed to be replaced by his son in law.

    One of the other highlights is the film's attempts to grapple with the complexities of the David the King. Having won the throne he has to deal with the rivalries between Abner and Joab, and between Amnon and Absalom, not to mention Absalom's attempt to wrestle power away from his father. But in reality these episodes are merely notable rather than engaging or insightful. Similarly the affair with Jane Seymour's Bathsheba is of little interest.

    Ultimately, then, it's a mixed bag. The camera work, compositions are workmanlike, aside from Quayle the acting is mundane and the writing is occasionally quite clunky. And whilst a lack of visual authenticity does not necessarily prevent a film from illuminating its subject it's nigh on impossible to forget that this is just a bunch of Americans running around in California with a camera.

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