The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)

I like this movie although I suspect I shouldn’t. Carol Reed’s filming is grand but never pompous, lush colours contributing to shots carefully conceived to evoke the Renaissance painting it celebrates. Add a reasonably cerebral script and a true interest in the details of producing such an artwork, makes it one of those more peculiar by-products of the late-‘50s’early ‘60s golden era of the literate epic. Both to the film's benefit and detriment, it’s practically a two-man show between Chuck Heston’s egotistical, visionary Michelangelo and Rex Harrison – who as in Cleopatra wins the bout by TKO – imperious, cynical but equally visionary Julius II. The film falls down badly in a superfluous sub-plot involving a chaste romance with Diane Cilento, and the script's attempts to squirm out of making a direct statement about Michelangelo’s sexuality, eventually result in the line Cilento delivers, in describing the Sistine Chapel ceiling: “There’s more love here than can ever exist between a man and a woman.” Indeed, the true love story is nagging, baiting, mutually infuriating one between painter and pope, expressed in cosmic-scale homoerotica.

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