It surprises me how many reviewers are giving this astonishing film only three stars, and I do hope this is not because the film chooses not to dwell on the viciousness of Hypatia's murder: a decision which would have made a cinematic 'spectacle' entirely inappropriate for this must subtle and beautiful of films.
The astonishingly realistic recreation of fourth century Alexandria is in itself a remarkable cinematic feat, the costumes look entirely authentic, the performances are flawless, and the cinematography - always beautiful - is often thoroughly awe inspiring. Ultimately, however, what makes this film so great is the way in which it puts human beings into perspective (swarming fundamentalists ransacking the agora are likened to ants, and in one of the most inspired shots in cinematic history, Alexandria is viewed from outer space, and is sublime and utterly insignificant all at once) whilst suggesting that human beings are nevertheless capable of reaching the heights of reason, and plumbing the depths of unreason. It is one of the ironies of history that the monstrous 'Saint' Cyril of Alexandria is recognised as a Doctor of the Church, whilst not a single word written by Hypatia has survived.
Much ink will be wasted in coming months in discussion of whether this film deliberately paints Christianity in a bad light. The truth is that no form of religious extremism looks good in this film, and for that reason alone, it ought to be statutory viewing for all people who are convinced that theirs is the only god.
Forget the lukewarm reviews, and see this film for yourself. I found myself on the edge of tears throughout most of it, entranced by the splendour, wisdom and realism of its vision. The ending was the hardest and the truest thing I have ever seen in a film.
But don't trust me. Make up your own mind. That is what Hypatia would have told you to do.