All Ridley Scott’s vaunted visuals can’t transform 1492 from a lumbering, one-dimensional historical fresco into the complex, ambiguous character study that it strives to be.
French journalist and first-time screenwriter Roselyne Bosch offers up a humanistic pacifist driven by an enigmatic mix of motives to settle a new land. ‘They are not savages, and neither will we be,’ Columbus (Gerard Depardieu) announces to his crew.
A man allied with monks but disgusted by the Inquisition, he is able to charm the Spanish queen into sending him into the unknown. After a remarkably uneventful voyage spurred by one little inspirational speech to his nervous crew, Columbus reaches his promised ‘earthly paradise’.
After his triumphant return home, a new, 17-ship expedition is launched. Minds dominated by military ambition, religious fervor and greed inevitably gain the upper hand and turn the lush tropical settlement into a living hell.
Scott takes slightly greater interest in the political dynamics informing the yarn. The Crown’s treasurer (Armand Assante) plays out an ambiguous relationship with Columbus throughout all the latter’s changing fortunes.
Sigourney Weaver briefly suggests a sexual susceptibility to Columbus behind the queen’s approval of his grand scheme. But no one is allowed the opportunity to develop a character.
Depardieu’s energy, passion and conviction are ideal for the role, but perhaps it remains beyond him at this point to act in English in depth.