King Solomon is often remembered for his wisdom, but if you judge the man by the new four-hour Pax TV mini, he was also a real stick in the mud. Although the international co-production has some of the ingredients of a solid epic (decent cast, exotic location, expensive sets and costumes), “Solomon” lacks the kind of narrative panache that will keep auds from dozing off after the first hour.
Longform begins with the elderly King David (Max von Sydow) already in his sick bed and worried about the future of his kingdom. Most of the first hour is spent chronicling the tedious rivalry between Solomon (Ben Cross, light years away from his “Chariots of Fire” days) and his amoral half-brother Adonijah, who’s plotting to take over with the assistance of devious army commander Joab (David Suchet).
Very, very slowly and surely, Solomon is crowned King of Israel, and he vows to build a temple to house the sacred Ark of Covenant, per God’s instructions. In return, the Creator gives him the gift of wisdom.
The arrival of the queen of Sheba, portrayed by Vivica A. Fox, the only member of the cast with a non-Euro accent, adds a bit of spice to the solemn proceedings. Solomon and his beautiful new visitor feed each other peaches and sugar and talk about the wisdom of ants — it’s a regular lovefest. But just when the romance begins to heat up, some killjoy high priests send the love interest back to her homeland.
With the queen gone, Solomon gets more morose and despotic and allows pagan temples to grow all over Israel. At this point, neither his good friend Jeroboam nor his 700 wives can knock any sense into him, and by the time the mini concludes, there are no real reasons left to root for this king.
As entertaining as it is to see screen greats Anouk Aimee and Max von Sydow on the tube, there’s a certain inherent stiffness to the proceedings. Above all, drama fails to ignite any real interest in the fate of its protagonist, while too much time is spent focusing on crowd scenes or long shots of Solomon riding his donkey in the desert.
After all is said and done, viewers may simply wonder why, of all the Israelites, God chose to speak to Solomon. His friend and advisor Jeroboam, for example, comes across as a much better man than the ill-tempered king.
Veteran TV helmer Roger Young, who has directed everything from “Magnum P.I.” to other biblical epics such as “Moses” and “Joseph,” certainly knows a thing or two about this kind of sand-and-sandals tale. Perhaps it’s the international nature of the production or its unnecessary length that tie his hands here. Chris Bryant’s pedantic script, which has its share of clunkers (“I’ve learned much from watching the ant”), further sinks the effort.
Tech credits are standard. Simonetta Leoncini’s costumes make up for Raffaele Mertes’ lensing, which seems to be drowning in browns and oranges. Score could use some subtlety.