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(2006) (Tiffany Dupont, Luke Goss) (PG)

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Drama: After being chosen to be the next queen of Persia, a Jewish orphan does what she can to save her people from persecution at the hands of those wishing to overthrow the king.
It's ancient Persia and King Xerxes (LUKE GOSS) is looking for a new queen since the last woman to inhabit that position humiliated him in public over her disdain for his desire to get revenge on the Greeks for previously killing his father. Accordingly, his men are sent through the kingdom to find suitable young women, a point that doesn't escape Jewish palace scribe Mordecai (JOHN RHYS-DAVIES).

He knows that his younger, orphaned relative Hadassah (TIFFANY DUPONT) is quite attractive, and thus he says that should she be chosen, she should forget being Jewish and instead go by the name of Esther. Nevertheless, she doesn't think that will happen as she plans to travel to Jerusalem with her wannabe boyfriend Jesse (JONAH LOTAN).

Yet, it does and she suddenly finds herself abducted along with other young women now under the care of head eunuch Hagai (TOMMY "TINY" LISTER, JR.) who takes a liking to Esther and gives her inside help to be chosen as the next queen. While also planning for the war with Prince Memucan (OMAR SHARIF) and Prince Admantha (JOHN NOBLE), Xerxes finds time to meet, fall for, and finally marry Hadassah, unaware of her heritage.

However, other far more nefarious secrets are underfoot. Seeking to avenge a centuries-old injustice toward his ancestral people, Haman (JAMES CALLIS) arrives at the palace and quickly works his way into the king's inner circle, a point that helps Admantha and his own nefarious plans to undermine his king. From that point on, and as misunderstandings progressively strain her marriage and relationship to Xerxes, Hadassah must take various risks to protect her people when she learns of their pending demise.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I suppose it's a common thing for many people to do, but humans often forget or at least overlook the origins of holidays they celebrate. Probably the biggest in such regards, of course, is Christmas that's become a heavily commercialized and sometimes secular period of gift giving and merriment.

For the devout, however, such days or periods are sacred, and certain religions have more than others, such as Judaism. While most Gentiles have heard of Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and maybe Rosh Hashanah (although they probably can't say what they represent), few probably know of Purim, one of the more celebrated days among those of the Jewish faith.

That festival commemorates the deliverance of Persian Jews from destruction under the reign of King Xerxes I, an event duly noted in the Old Testament's Book of Esther, so named after the Jewish queen who made sure they lived. Now, that period tale can be seen in "One Night with the King," a dramatized retelling of the tale from some of the folks who brought you the truly awful "The Omega Code."

Yes, that would be TBN (the Trinity Broadcasting Network), an organization that's obviously pumped a decent amount of money into this fairly handsome production. While it probably doesn't have much of a prayer of playing outside the congregation, so to speak, it will likely appease their followers for depicting a pro-religious message wrapped inside a story of courage, love, treachery and more.

What may be most notable as a footnote somewhere in cinema history, however, is that it's the first film to reunite "Lawrence of Arabia" stars Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif since, well, a 1967 film called "The Night of the Generals" that came out five years after that "other" film. Ignoring that latter fact, the production house proudly boasts the pairing, with their names up at the top of most related advertisements. Those expecting another Oscar worthy combo, however, will likely be disappointed as O'Toole is onscreen for one lone flashback, while Sharif appears in a more substantial, but still just supporting role that doesn't really show off his acting prowess.

Instead, the spotlight falls on Tiffany Dupont as Esther, a.k.a. Jewish orphan Hadassah who's been raised by an older relative (a solid John Rhys-Davies) and likes hanging around with and plans on traveling to Jerusalem with her young wannabe boyfriend Jesse (Jonah Lotan). Visually beguiling, it takes Dupont a while to grow into the role (fittingly enough, I suppose, following her character's eventual growth) as she acts and sounds like a suburban teen somehow transplanted to ancient Persia.

When the king (a decent Luke Goss) unceremoniously dumps the present queen for dissing him in public (by not appearing at his command), he sets out to find a replacement. That results in the abduction of various young women, including Hadassah who initially keeps up the teen 'tude even when being secretly coached by the head eunuch awkwardly embodied by the hulking Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr.

He eventually picks her, they fall in love, marry, and everything seems hunky-dory until screenwriter Stephan Blinn (the two "Omega Code" movies) throws in some weakly contrived complications that suddenly put them at odds. Which is a bad thing since some in the king's inner circle (John Noble in a less than convincing performance as a conniving prince and James Callis as the notorious instigator Haman with a centuries-old ax to grind) have decided the best way to fund their war with the Greeks (and do in the king) is to plunder the Jews' fortune and kill them to prevent any related uprising. Of course, no one, not even Xerxes, knows that Esther is really Hadassah, and thus she must put her life on the line to try to save her people.

Despite an obvious decent-sized budget and mostly solid production design, the film still occasionally feels a bit amateurish at times. That's evidenced by director Michael O. Sajbel's unwise insistence of using slow-motion footage to try to drive home any number of dramatic points, as well as some occasional voice-over narration that works in delivering exposition but is otherwise unnecessary in terms of character actions and motivation.

The overall effort seems to get a bit better as the story progresses and the main plot finally kicks in, but the filmmakers could probably use a lesson or two in dramatic momentum. That also holds true for creating truly engaging characters, building and maintaining real suspense, and knowing when to turn down the volume (or even hit the mute button) on an overwrought score that often threatens to overwhelm everything in its aural path.

In the end, it's nothing great in terms of comparing it to the rest of overall cinema, but it's clearly better than many a film made with religious intent and backing And that's partly because those religious elements aren't hammered home but instead feel integral (obviously, considering the source material) to the storyline and its characters. "One Night With the King" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 10, 2006 / Posted October 13, 2006

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