Grand and colorful pageantry simultaneously evokes 1950s and '60s Hollywood epics, and 400 B.C. Persia in this stunningly artistic take on the Bible's Queen Esther.
When a young Jewish orphan girl named Hadassah became the Queen of Persia sometime around 481 B.C., she had no idea that, as Queen Esther, she would be used by God to prevent the extinction of her entire race. It's a story found in the Old Testament Book of Esther, and it's one of the Bible's most treasured sources of inspiration and comfort since it brilliantly illustrates God's divine providence and His personal care and protection for His Chosen People.
One Night With the King, then, has a lot to live up to.
Much of what's positive in this film is also spiritual, or biblical in nature, and is detailed below. It's worth noting here, though, that greed is exposed as foolishness. And that love is deemed a treasure beyond the reach of all wealth. When Esther appears before King Xerxes I without first lavishing herself with jewels (as the other maidens do), he at first mistakes her plainness for a sign of self-effacement. "Do you consider yourself of so little worth that I could purchase your love so cheaply?" he scoffs. But her gentle response sets him straight: "I am neither a buyer nor a seller of love. If it can be purchased, it is not love."
Speaking of going to war with the Greeks, the king's general argues that a strong, healthy dedication to peace is far superior to recklessly avenging old wrongs.
Based on Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen's novel Hadassah: One Night With the King, this onscreen story closely parallels the biblical account, but it doesn't follow along word for word in the way that, say, the film The Gospel of John does. Esther 2:17 states, "Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins." But nothing is said of Esther's feelings for the king, nor is there any indication that the reason she was afraid to plead her people's case to him is that they had been quarreling, as happens in the movie.
It isn't my purpose here to detail every inconsistency between script and Scripture—dramatic license sits just fine with me as long as it doesn't interfere with or contradict what the Bible says. But it is a worthy exercise for families that see One Night With the King to compare it to its source. While doing so, they will notice that the film overlays onto Esther's interactions Xerxes' campaign against the Greeks. And it modifies the checkmate scene between Esther and Haman, giving him far more "tough-guy" credit than is revealed in Esther 7. Verse 6 reads, "Esther said, 'The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.' Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen." Onscreen, at this point, Haman is the apparent victor, and his pleas for mercy are mockingly insulting. Not so. Scripture indicates that he was begging Esther for his life, not choking her in a triumphant rage.
The film opens with the almost rhetorical question, "From whence comes the purpose of a person's life?" And while it's followed by the secular-sounding "Does a call of destiny beckon to each of us?" the film clearly believes and teaches that God is the source of purpose for everyone. Equally poignant is the film's linking of Haman's murderous hatred for the Jews to an act of kingly disobedience 500 years earlier—Saul's refusal to completely wipe out the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15.
An intimate relationship with God is described as being better than mortal love. And Esther and Mordecai, among others, frequently revel in the stories of God's provision and kindness, especially the account of Jacob and Rachel (which begins in Genesis 29). Referring to David's battle with Goliath, it is said that his "victory came not because he fought well, but because he believed well."
While in the thick of it, Mordecai communicates his faith in the Lord to Esther while challenging her to stay the course. "My Lord will take care of me," he says. "Do you take care of your Lord?" Both Mordecai and Esther pray to God for deliverance. And Mordecai makes a point of refusing to bow down to Haman, declaring openly that his loyalties lie only with the great I AM.
A favorite line from Proverbs 25:2 is repeated throughout the film: "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings." A passage from Isaiah 40 is recited.
Interestingly (and somewhat oddly), one of Haman's rants forecasts the coming of Christ—and democracy. "They would rather bow down to their own God than obey the laws of protocol," he says of the Jews. "Their prophets even speak of a coming king, a king who will reign over all kings, and set all men free. Is that not the essence of democracy?"
A stray expression of "thank the gods" denotes the time period's pervasive polytheism.
By biblical implication only. Certainly, when the virgins of Persia went "in to the king," they did not spend the night playing Monopoly. To its credit, One Night With the King refuses to titillate audiences with images or even any sexual-themed dialogue related to this, though. After falling in love, Esther and Xerxes share kisses.
Elsewhere, as if to define "eunuch" to an audience that has little association with the word, Hegai ("the king's eunuch, who is in charge of the women") laments to Esther that "they also took my manhood from me."
The camera always looks away from the story's violent moments. Hangings and stabbings occur offscreen. We see Haman raise a dagger and begin to plunge it into a man. The prophet Samuel secures King Saul's sword to slay King Agag. In near darkness, arrows find their marks and men fall to the ground. Haman grabs Esther and begins to strangle her. (Xerxes roughly intervenes.) Soldiers manhandle some of the girls who are ordered to compete for the king's affections. Haman strikes Mordecai down to the ground when he refuses to bow.
Crude or Profane Language
None. "Donkey-brained" is as sour and salacious as it gets.
Drug and Alcohol Content
At Xerxes' feast, toasts are made and men appear to be drunk. (Scripture indicates that wine flowed freely at this event.) It can be assumed that goblets at other banquets also contain wine.
Created in part to provoke nostalgia for Hollywood's grand historical epics (Lawrence of Arabia, for instance), One Night With the King soars far more often than it stumbles. While actors' accents are all over the map and the story feels too dense to follow in spots, the action and intrigue is undeniably exciting and compelling—without ever resorting to gratuitous gore, violence, foul language or sexual situations. And that's a hard thing to make happen when telling a story that is as universally known and loved as Esther's is.
The film's costuming, something I rarely pay much heed to, is masterful in its ability to trick you into believing what you see. Equally grand is the colorfully flamboyant pageantry that simultaneously evokes 1950s and '60s Hollywood, and 400 B.C. Persia.
But it's the noble self-sacrifice of a common, God-fearing Jewish orphan girl who became queen that triumphs here. We get to know her. We get to like her. And we come to respect her as she allows God to use her as the instrument of salvation for her people.
Confident that God still places people in particular times and locations so that His work and will are carried out, One Night With the King only served to remind me once again of how perfect His plans are. Even when the beginnings of those plans aren't pleasant or predictable, "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
Esther didn't want to be captured and taken to the palace as a king's concubine. She didn't understand why her parents died when she was very young and her relative, Mordecai, had to care for her. She didn't have a clue that God was going to use her faith and her obedience to confound genocide. And neither can we grasp what God's doing with us and around us.
"For such a time as this," Mordecai tells Esther. And in both small and big ways, the same applies to those today who love God and are called according to His purpose. That's powerful, encouraging, spiritually beautiful stuff. And it's great to see it on the big screen.