Alexander the Coy

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Review of 'Alexander', director Oliver Stone

This no holds barred biopic of Alexander the Great sets out to tell the whole truth, or least as much as we know, of Alexander - including the gay or bisexual truth about him and the sexual mores of the period.

As such the film has come under attack by the Greek government, which threatened to sue over this 'slur' on their great national hero. The slur was to portray Alexander as bisexual. Now that really is perverse.

The film does tell the story of Alexander - his conquest of most of the known and half the semi-known world of the classical period. His empire stretched from Greece right through to present day Afghanistan and India.

And it does show that the love of his life was a man. It was said at the time that the only place where Alexander was ever defeated was between the thighs of Hephaistion, though in this film this refers to him being defeated in a wrestling match as a boy!

Alexander, like many Greeks of the period, had both wives and boy lovers. It must be said that in this area the film - though truthful - is rather coy. There is little man on man or man on boy action. What we get is knowing looks and proclamations of love and manly hugs. There is, however, some man/woman romping around. Also its avowed honesty in showing Greek sexual norms is spoiled by having a silly and crude Freudian explanation (he was apparently too close to his mother) as an explanation for his sexuality. And while wrestling bouts and athletic training in ancient Greece would have been naked here we get false modesty.

Director Oliver Stone tries to draw similes between Alexander's conquests and current day US imperialism. Oddly, it is argued that he was bringing Greek-style democracy to the world when in fact he and his father had destroyed it. It is also implied that the US - like Alexander - is reaching too far in its current policies and will suffer a similar fate.

Lots of money has been spent on the production - huge armies meet across great plains with sweeping camera angles and computer-generated effects as in Lord of the Rings. But the trouble is that the film itself is awful.

People don't talk but make speeches in a sub-Shakespearean style. There is lots of the night before Agincourt style wandering around through the camp, lots of eyes glued to the horizon proclaiming love and friendship (of the gay sort) and lots of confusing battle scenes.

Compared to the great spectacular films of the past it fails on almost all levels; even the gay theme has been done better and with more wit by Gore Vidal writing a sub-plot into Ben Hur - something which Charlton Heston, being the chap he is, never realised.

At one point, when the great love of his life is dying, Alexander declaims about the further conquests he plans - to go to Arabia and to build a canal to the middle sea, to go beyond the pillars of Hercules and to the great northern forest, to conquer the Roman tribe because they fight so well, and on and on - he doesn't get so far as to plan the invasion of America but you feel he is about to.

I had looked forward to this film. I thought of great strapping Greeks rolling around naked and a great sweating spectacular epic with a gay hero. But this is not that film. It is ponderous and takes itself so very seriously that it ends up being unintentionally funny.