Friday 30 July 2010


Went to see Agora yesterday, knowing nothing about Hypatia or Alexandria in the 4th century AD. Impressive CGI, a movie grappling with big ideas and putting out all sorts of allegories for today. But as it focused on ideas rather than people, and too many of them, it was a failure, albeit one that sparked debate.
I came out knowing no more about the main characters than when I’d entered, never a good sign, as you have to care about people to get to the heart. A poor, wooden script. And, after some checking, seemingly incorrect in some important areas. The movie showed the Christians sacking the library of Alexandria, although there seems to be no evidence the library even still existed at this point. I’m no apologist for any organised religion, but this seemed gratuitous. Also, the real death of Hypatia was far more gruesome than the one shown – although that wouldn’t play with film audiences. Instead she received the Vaseline lens, soft core death.
So, in attempting to show how the Christians had twisted and perverted the tenets of their own bible, the film seemingly choose to bend the truth a great deal. Do two wrongs make a right? Not really.
As someone who likes historical mysteries, this obviously resonates. I use time and place as the framework for my books. But as far as possible I try to keep the history correct, rather than trimming and altering facts for my own ends. The massive sleights of hand the filmmakers attempted in Agora rankle. If they’d gone for a much smaller film, one that revolved around characters, they could have made their point far more effectively and created a tragedy worthy of Shakespeare. But then there’s the lure of the epic and the chance of all those Hollywood dollars. A shame, as there was real potential there.

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