Disappointed By My Night With The Queen

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I sat down in my hotel room in Beijing on Friday night to waste away a couple of hours on a movie – One Night with the King. The movie, now on DVD, tells the story of Esther, the biblical figure who saved the Jewish nation from destruction at the hands of Haman. Now, I may be late in seeing this movie compared to most back in the States, but when I did watch it I confess that I was disappointed.

One Night with the King was promoted as one of the best-produced movies based upon the Bible in decades. In many ways that is true. It’s production values, acting, directing, all very good. When I first read about the movie and saw the previews I was hoping it could be another movie for Eagle TV to use to tell the Bible’s story. After all, the official website for the movie asserts boldly: “The True Story of Queen Esther.”

It is not the true story of Queen Esther. It is a mix of biblical elements, speculation, and downright fiction. Only a completely made up story using the same names would be further from the truth.

Like so many Bible-based movies which are entertaining, and try to even honor the text of the Bible, there are extra-biblical scenes in the movie – most of this movie in fact is extra-biblical – that so draw you in that unless you are already familiar with the story of Esther from the Bible, you won’t get a clear picture of what really happened in the actual history. Even the elements of the story that are taken from the Bible are so edited and altered that the events themselves differ radically from the scripture.

The story is set by telling of King Saul’s defeat of the Amalekites and the wife of Agag escaping to eventually have a son who would form a tribe dedicated to the destruction of the Jews – Nazi cross and all! This is used as a plot device to set up Haman’s motivation of hatred for the Jews. In these first 8-minutes of the movie I knew the story was headed for trouble.

Along comes the Agagite descendant Haman, portrayed in the movie as a man sowing hatred of Jews at barely-secret rallies as if he was some kind of Adolph Hitler building a new Nazi party, all the while trying to ingratiate himself to the king. Haman’s continual ridicule of democracy also figures prominently in the second half of the movie. One wonders why the producers felt it necessary to give ancient biblical figures 20th century, pre-World War II political motivations.

In the movie Haman is at least being suspicious of Esther sympathizing or being a Jew. But the scripture portrays Haman in no such way. When called by Esther to a feast, Haman is again suspicious, ready to accuse the Queen before the King from the first moments. But the Bible reveals that Haman was so deceived by his own pride that he felt only good things could come from his participation in the feast (there were actually two feasts – but why nitpick). Esther’s appearance before the King, in risk of her life, has a certain cuteness to it – perhaps even a hint of sensuousness, all drenched in water like that, busting in the door to present herself, humble yet aggressive. Whatever. The movie’s rendition does not begin resemble the scripture in the slightest, nor the level of risk Esther took.

When Haman is exposed by Esther he doesn’t fear his fate, he accuses the Queen in front of the king. The king leaves the room for a moment, and Haman mocks Esther to her face, feigning fear until the king returns and orders him hung. The actual history is much different. Once exposed, Haman was terrified, he knew he was about to die and pleaded with Esther for his life. When the king returned he thought Haman was trying to assault the Queen – in addition to his other offenses – and had him strung up by the neck.

Most important in the movie is the failure to portray the level of fear that Esther felt when she knew should would approach the king. Mordecai challenged her to approach the king, and pushed her to do it because of her great fear. Esther had become accustomed to the life of the palace, knew the fate of her predecessor and did not want to suffer worse. Her fear was so thick she asked the entire Jewish community to take neither food or water for 3 days on her behalf in hopes of averting disaster for the Jews and her own judgment by the king. None of this is portrayed accurately in the movie. Esther is presented as a wise young woman – which is good – but the Bible presents her as not only wise, but as someone who had nothing within herself with which she could approach the king – even though she was Queen. She had to rely completely upon the Lord for her salvation and that of her people. This foreshadows Christ who died on our behalf because we have nothing with which to come before the king for our own salvation. Only the mercy and grace of the king prevents our judgment. The movie One Night with the King misses the point of Esther’s story entirely.

There are other elements just plain silly: The adaptation of a Nazi symbol into a symbol of the Agagites, and Esther’s pendant that projects stars of David like a disco ball – which Haman can’t see but the King can see. It’s just plain stupid. The story of Esther is dramatic and captivating enough not to be poisoned with such fantasy nonsense.

Now as movies go One Night with the King is a nice movie. It’s well written and very entertaining as far as fiction goes. I will probably watch it again. But we will never air it on Eagle TV, and it should never be used by a broadcast or video ministry to accurately tell the story of the Bible. One Night with the King, and movies like it only serve to confuse people about God’s word – not disciple or educate. The missionary, the pastor, and the Bible teach are called to disciple – not dissemble the story of the Bible.
At Eagle TV we use a series of television dramas about the Bible produced, ironically, by Ted Turner. They are the best movies ever made about the Bible, and are about 90 percent true to the text. A few well placed edits and you have movies that tell the Bible’s story accurately that can be used to lead a person chronologically through the scripture until you get to Jesus. We do this regularly on-air, and with our Steppe-by-Steppe project. The results speak for themselves – thousands have seen the movies (and our originally produced matching Bible studies), and so many have come to Christ. The number one comment by people watching the movies we show is that they are learning things from, and about the Bible they never before knew, and that they are not learning in their churches. A movie like One Night with the King might contain some biblical elements, but people ignorant of the scripture cannot learn God’s word from it.

The scripture warns us about taking away or adding to the Word of God. Bible-based movies like One Night with the Kingare the only Bible that many people will see. By butchering the story, and adding elements which are not found in the biblical text, the producers have, in effect, taken away from, and added to the Word of God that which doesn’t belong. If this is going to be the standard approach by Gener8xion Entertainment (the producer) to it’s line-up of Christian fare, then I’ll skip their productions.

One Night with the King is a good movie as movies go. But if you want to share entertainment with friends that could lead to a discussion of the scriptures without confusing the biblical issues, then One Night with the King should be left on the shelf.

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