Agora – the accidental film

Why accidental? Well, I picked up two tickets this afternoon. One for Centurion, and one for a film later on. I got the tickets mixed up and walked into the second theatre first. Whoever checked my ticket on the way in obviously just saw the screen number and missed the film name and time! In fairness, so did I…

Anyway, by the time the title of the film came up I realised I wasn’t in to see Centurion. In fairness, they’re both swords and sandals films so I have a valid excuse. And by that point, the “correct” film would have started so I decided to sit Agora out.

I am very, very glad I did.

Agora

“Since when were there so many Christians?”

Plot-in-a-nutshell – a few decades in the life of Alexandria, as the pagan gods die off and the Christian one takes over.

I’m no Egypto-Roman scholar, but Agora seems more like a Discovery Channel docu-drama than a regular movie. The detail, acting quality, sets, scenery, plot… all are simply superb.

Rachel Weisz plays Hypatia, a philosopher and scholar – and historically the “first woman of mathematics”. At the start of the film, the Roman gods are still playing a major part in the lives of the inhabitants of Alexandria. Christianity, now no longer outlawed, is on the ascendancy. Also in the mix is a sizeable Jewish population.

As you may have guessed, this is no Clash of the Titans. The effects are predominantly geared towards some wondrous views of the city from space. Hypatia’s passion is for the mysteries of circles and planetary objects.

This is a simple story, at its heart, and takes place at a reasonable pace. There are several layers which intermingle nicely – the slow working out of the planetary objects and discussion of philosophy; the uprising and expansion of the Christian faith and the brutal treatment of both the pagans and the Jews; the treatment of slaves.

One things for sure and that’s that it doesn’t put the Christians in a good light. Again, how close this is to “real” history, I don’t know. In fairness, records from that far back are hazy to say the least. From what I’ve read up on since seeing the film, there’s a little artistic license but the core of the story is based on as much fact as we have available.

And that’s one of the best things about this movie. For me, at least, it awoke a desire to dig through the online encyclopaedias and learn a little more about what I’d just seen.

Great entertainment and education without noticing. If it wasn’t for the violence, very mild nudity and… erm… violence then this would be a fantastic film for schoolkids studying this period in history. Mind, it’s only a 15 so perhaps it could be used.

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