• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Monday, July 28, 2008

    I'm Xerxes. No, I'm Xerxes

    As regular readers will know, I've been looking a bit at the book of Esther recently as background to the course I run, Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years. The session actually ran last Monday, but one of the things we discussed was different portrayals of King Xerxes. So I was interested to stumble across deebeedee's post of various film images of the Persian Emperor, contrasted with his image in the Bas-relief.

    One of the points I made was that it's notable how filmmakers completely re-work Xerxes' image depending on how his role fits with their plot. So perhaps the most controversial depiction of him is in 300 where on top of the movie's hyperbolic visualisations he also plays the leading villain. Note how strongly this contrasts with his ultra-sweet portrayal in One Night With the King where not only is Xerxes a sensitive lover, but he is also played by a former member of a boy band (Luke Goss) - see images at deebeedee.

    The two images in this post are also of Xerxes. The one below is from the Bible Collection's Esther (1999) where the character is, again, a sensitive man, but also frequently behaves like a petulant child. Here's there's an undercurrent that Esther is there not only to save the Jews, but also to save their king from himself. The image at the top of this post is Richard Egan's turn as Xerxes in Esther and the King (1960). Here he is also portrayed sympathetically, although it's interesting that this film has him as heroic and charismatic rather than a sensitive 'new man'. Both of these later films also follow the Bible's lead of calling him Ahasuerus, which does, of course, raise the possibility, that they are not actually depictions of Xerxes, but of another king entirely.

    Of course varying portrayals of Xerxes based on ideology is nothing new. I've heard it said that the feast which Queen Vashti refused to attend in Esther 1 was a celebration of the Persian's victory in the Greco-Persian wars (which, in fact, they lost). It's also worth pointing out that none of the portrayals of Xerxes thus far have used an actor who was close to being ethnically Persian. In fact, Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro, who played him in 300, is the only non-Caucasian to have taken the role so far.



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