Review by Jack Foley
ALEJANDRO Amenabar can proudly lay claim to having created a thinking man’s swords and sandals epic with Agora.
An ambitious blend of historical drama that encompasses astronomy, religious unrest and illicit love, the film is an absorbing insight into ancient Egypt, circa 391 AD.
Set in the capital of Alexandria, the film follows Rachel Weisz’s atheist philosopher Hypatia as she attempts to decipher where the Earth fits into the solar system, while fending off the romantic advances of one of her servants, Davus, (Max Minghella) and pupil-turned-Roman prefect Orestes (Oscar Isaac).
Taking place around all of them, meanwhile, are the major religious upheavals caused by the violent spread of Christianity across the Roman Empire.
With so much going on – and this UK cut considerably shorter than the one which premiered at Cannes last year – it’s hardly surprising to report that Amenabar struggles to leave as lasting an emotional impact as he was undoubtedly seeking.
But that doesn’t undermine what remains an intriguing and thought-provoking film with plenty that resonates with the world today.
The scenes of religious unrest are particularly effective, culminating in a spectacular and brutal sacking of the library at Alexandria, while the debates surrounding Judaism, Christianity and atheism are convincingly staged.
Weisz offers a compelling central presence, too, as a woman ahead of her time, whose independent spirit and headstrong attitude seems destined to end in tragedy.
In Spain, Agora has become one of the highest grossing pictures of all time and won seven of 13 Goya (Spanish Oscar) nominations. It’s no small compliment to say that it’s easy to see why.
Running time: 127mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August 16, 2010