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A terror of biblical proportions? Not quite

October 13, 2006|Sam Adams | Special to The Times

The Jewish holiday of Purim, whose traditions include drinking, noise-making and the consumption of three-cornered cookies called hamentaschen, is among the most joyous of feast days. But there's not much joy in "One Night With the King," a lavish but listless retelling of the biblical story of Esther.

In the role of Queen Esther, previously essayed by Joan Collins and a "Veggie Tales" cartoon scallion, Tiffany Dupont more closely resembles the vegetable. The daughter of Jews slaughtered by the villainous Hamen, Esther conceals her Jewish heritage when she is drafted by King Xerxes (Luke Goss) to replace the unacceptably pacifist Queen Vashti. The part calls for a headstrong spirit, but Dupont's flirtatious flounce is better suited to "West Side Story" than ancient times. Goss plays Xerxes with the swagger of a salsa star, and James Callis' pallid Hamen (he of the triangular treats) is hardly worth hooting at.

In the Purim story, Esther, nee Hadassah, reveals her true ancestry to save her people from Hamen's genocide. Although the snake-snarled swastika Hamen takes as his emblem points up the story's historical resonance, the emphasis in "One Night With the King" is less on averting the Jews' annihilation than making the world safe for individual freedom. The film's Persian baddies are unrepentant monarchists, while Hamen slurs the Jews by equating them with the hated Greeks, whose seditious philosophy he summarizes as, "All men are created equal."

The attempt to yoke terror-era concerns to biblical lore is not entirely successful, but it is intriguing, if only because it answers the question: Why another version of this oft-filmed tale?

Although the story's ending is unchanged from the Bible, it rings differently here. Xerxes gives the Jews the right to fight back, further allowing them to claim their attackers' wealth and property.

Had Xerxes suspected what riches lay under that land, he might have been less quick to give it away. But to the victor goes the oil?


'One Night With the King'

MPAA rating: PG for violence, some sensuality and thematic elements

A Gener8Xion Entertainment release. Director Michael O. Sajbel. Producers Matthew and Laurie Crouch. Screenplay Stephan Blinn. Based on the novel "Hadassah: One Night With the King" by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen. Director of photography Steven Bernstein. Editors Gabriella Cristiani, Stephan Blinn. Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute.

In general release.

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