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The Ten Commandments

It would take more than a man to lead the slaves from bondage. It would take a God. 

Year: 1956 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1 (70mm) 
Certificate: BBFC U Cert – Universal 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from The Ten Commandments

It's almost fifty years old, it's special effects were created years before computer graphics were invented and it's as historical as Lord of the Rings but when first released hundreds of thousands of children were taken on school trips to experience this tale of magic and mastery.

The story is from the book of Exodus, the second in the Old Testament. It is a mythologised account of how the descendants of Abraham became the owners of Canaan. Though it ends before the ethnic cleansing started. Charlton Heston does not act the role of Moses, he is Moses. The Hebrew baby saved from government infanticide by being hidden in the rushes at the edge of the Nile and discovered by a Pharaoh's daughter. Moses grows up to become the man chosen by YHWH, one of the Hebrew names for God, to free his fellow Hebrews from slavery.

The film portrays all the magical mythical events in a literal way from talking burning bushes to rivers of blood. If God really was able to do this sort of stuff in the Bronze Age you might reasonably ask, where he was between 1939 and 1945. However, such questions are of no concern to Cecil B. DeMille, the director. This is not theology, it is entertainment.

Of course, the special effects are poor in comparison with what can be created today but it does have the advantage of being real people and horses falling over. Although the sea that divides to create a dry escape route for Moses and the fleeing slaves looks very unreal, even by the standards of the 1950s.

If you have seen the Life of Brian and Monty Python and the Holy Grail and expect a film with the same historic incisiveness then you'll be disappointed. There are no jokes. This is serious American religious entertainment on an epic scale, and an important classic in cinema.

Mervyn Trone

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Screenings of this film:

2004/2005 Autumn Term (70mm)