Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

15 September 2013

Agony. Ecstasy. (Sodomy?)

There are a lot of things to say about an epic undertaking such as The Agony and the Ecstasy, but the thing I saw most clearly when I watched it was how generic it is. Agony is an amazingly enormous film: gorgeous sets, costumes, locations, battles, photography. And the whole thing is impressive.

But Agony has a structure similar to Becket (1964) and Cromwell (1970) and Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), whereby two very important historical figures – Henry II (Peter O'Toole), Thomas à Becket (Richard Burton) / Oliver Cromwell (Richard Harris), James I (Alec Guinness) / Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson), Mary Queen of Scots (Vanessa Redgrave) – face off and battle one another, while respecting and even loving one another. In Agony the pair is Pope Julius II and Michaelangelo Buonarotti as they work together to make the Sistine Chapel a reality.

I want also to say how much I hated – I mean absolutely loathed – Alex North's score for this movie. It is awful. Alternating between drummed-up marches and chorus-boys singing alleluias, more than once I begged for the soundtrack simply to shut up. 

There is a rather fascinating scene about Michaelangelo's presumed sodomitical tendencies. Charlton Heston talks to Diane Cilento about how he simply can't love her because of how much he loves art, and the camera can't help but capture all of these sketches of naked men while the conversation happens. I watched with mild amusement and slight horror during the whole of it.

Worth a watch? I think so, although I think Becket and Cromwell are superior.