Reviewer: Charity Bishop
My experience with Biblical films has been varied. Many of them have good intentions and a poor delivery, but this presentation is on par with the best of them. David is a surprisingly moving and engaging retelling of one of the Old Testament's most memorable figures.
When a mysterious storm arises and the donkeys belonging to Saul (Jonathan Pryce) vanish before his sons' very eyes, he and his son Jonathan (Ben Daniels) set out to learn what has become of their property. Their search takes them into a neighboring community and places them in the path of Samuel (Leonard Nimoy), a prophet who has been instructed by God to anoint a leader for the Israelites. He informs Saul that he has been chosen to command their armies and preside as king, a position that Saul feels unworthy of but accepts. God establishes him as a man of influence and power but when Samuel departs to heed the voice of God and leaves Saul to ponder what might be done against the invading Philistine army, Saul begins to doubt that God is with him. His attempt to communicate with God rather than waiting for Samuel's return deeply grieves God, who promises that he will be replaced -- and sends Samuel out once more to choose an eventual successor. This time, Samuel finds him in a shepherd boy named David, whose earnest desire to please God is so profound that he will do anything in His name.
David is known far and wide for his remarkable playing and singing and so when Saul is plagued by "demons" that will not allow him to sleep, Jonathan asks David if he will not come and soothe his father's rest. David becomes an invaluable member of the king's household and eventually takes a stand against their brutal enemy, Goliath, that wins the approval of the people and generates a profound jealousy in Saul. David (Nathanial Parker) must then flee for his life ... but much lies ahead for this future king of Israel, an individual who became known in scripture as a "man after God's own heart."
Most films in this genre suffer from stilted casting and poor directing but this television film is excellent. It has a terrific cast, most of which are recognizable from other period pieces and films. Parker is a wonderful David -- he takes a character that could be flat and uninteresting beyond his achievements and transforms him into a living, breathing person that the audience falls in love with not merely as a hero in the classic sense, but as a man of immense faith and respect for God. I admit that I have always thought of David in somewhat skeptical terms since scripture does not allow us to "know him" beyond his accomplishments (and several enormous mistakes) but once finishing this movie, it made me want to go back and read his portion of scripture. Parker is just the right blend of youth and innocence and an almost overwhelming sense of compassion. The most profound moments are his scenes of remorse and grief in the aftermath of his adulterous tryst and with what happens between his sons. The supporting cast is also quite good. Nimoy is a subdued but memorable Samuel, and Franco Nero is a superb Nathan. While the leading ladies do not have an enormous role, they are worth mentioning. It also has an absolutely beautiful musical score.
While the story does stick primarily to the scriptural account, there are some minor changes made. Saul is much older than he would have been when we first meet him and does not fit the physical description; David is anointed alone (in scripture, his brothers witness the ceremony); the battle with Goliath happens with only two onlookers (as opposed to two individual armies); Nabal's death happens sooner in the film than it did in real life; Uriaha meets a different fate. It is a little confusing later on as to which of his sons are from what wives, and who their companions actually are. My only true complaint is that Goliath is a little bit of a letdown -- he's a large man but not nearly as impressive as I anticipated. Other than that there isn't much to find fault with in terms of filmmaking and accuracy. There is some content but for the most part it is kept mild.
The scene in which Saul employs a witch to summon the spirit of Samuel is appropriately creepy as she performs a dark ritual and his ghost appears before them. I admire the film for being restrained in dealing with the darker aspects of the story, and also for its uplifting conclusion. It does not end at the death of David but many years before, with his assurance that in spite of his shortcomings, his household is to be blessed forever. Out of the many films based on scripture, this will probably become my favorite for its rich characters. If you can tolerate its occasional brutality, you will find it as engaging as I did.
David witnesses Bathsheba bathing from his balcony; we see most of her bare back and part of her backside as a robe is put around her. He is shown talking her into sleeping with him; they are shown momentarily "cuddling" in bed afterward. There are references to consummating marriage and lust; a man is encouraged to "take" three of his father's wives in the same night to prove his worth. The film does include the rape of Tamar -- we see her half-brother fighting with her and forcing her down onto a bed; the camera cuts away as he starts tearing at her clothes. A man kisses another on the lips, for non-romantic reasons, as part of a blessing.
Numerous battle scenes and other violent actions take place; men are shot with arrows, stabbed with swords, run through, or bludgeoned with sticks. There is rarely any blood but some of it is quite brutal. David brings back a cloth bag containing severed body parts on two occasions (we see Goliath's severed head, but not inside the second pouch, which contains "two hundred foreskins of fallen enemies"). A man commits suicide; another is killed before his eyes; a young man has his hair caught in the branches of a tree, and hangs there as other men circle around on horseback and repeatedly stab him. Animal lovers should be warned that we see a calf having its throat slit as a sacrifice.