Director: Alessandro Blasetti.
Starring: Michle Morgan (Fabiola), Henri Vidal (Rual), Michel Simon (Fabio), Louis Salou (Fulvio), Elisa Cegani (Sira), Massimo Girotti (Sebastiano), Gino Cervi (Quadrato), Sergio Tofano (Luciano), Rina Morelli (Faustina), Paolo Stoppa (Manlio Valerio), Carlo Ninchi (Galba), Franco Interlenghi (Corvino), Guglielmo Barnab (Antonio Leto), Aldo Silvani (Cassiano), Silvana Jachino (Lucilla).
love story between a Roman woman and a gladiator and persecution of the Christians
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
12 A.D. The new ruler is crossing the province of Gaul making a march to Rome. They slowly approach Italy. And in advance of the army, merchant ships bring grain to the hungry people of Rome. On one of these galleys is a young man named Rual from Gaul. He is a gladiator. Rual is one of Constantine's secret couriers and that he is on his way to help Fabius keep an eye on those opposing the Emperor's plan for Christian tolerance. The ship is one of the fleet of Fabius Severus and sails under imperial authority.
They land in Ostia. The grain is supposed to be for the residents of Ostia, but the Prefect Fulvius Patronius, second only to the Emperor in power, has ordered the grain to Rome. There is a dispute over where the grain is going. While Rual is watching this, he drops a Christian symbol. The captain is going to file charges with the Harbor Master. The Prefect talks to the Captain and says to give the grain to the people of Ostia. After the captain and Rual leave, the Prefect tells his aide that the men's ship belongs to Fabius and wants to know if his aide has gone mad? The people of Ostia cheer the news.
Two people have come from Fabius to meet the Emperor's courier. One is a young boy and the other is an older gentlemen named Lucius. The latter asks if this Christian symbol belongs to Rual? He says no. The man says Rual should relax. He is among friends. Rual only says that somehow the man thinks he's a Christian, but he is not. He's just a gladiator. They give Rual a horse to ride to see Fabius.
Fabius had invited the nobility of the Roman Empie to his house for a feast. He keeps Rual's coming a secret. Favius likes the Christian faith because he thinks it will bring an atmosphere of peace. But many of the Romans are not so positive toward the Christians. A Roman brings in Lucius as a spokesman for Christianity. The Romans laugh at the Christian, but Favius tell them not to mock Lucius.
A blonde woman is sleeping on the beach. The sound of Rual and his horse makes wakes her up. Rual stops, ties up his horse and then sees a beautiful lake in a beautiful garden. He would like to go in, but he can't because the gate is locked. He runs into the sea for a quick dip. He comes back and finds that now the gate is open. He walks in and looks at the beautiful statues and the water. The blonde stands so still that he thinks she is a statue too. But suddenly she speaks and asks him where is he from? He wants to know why she asks. She asks if he lives far away. He says very far. Then the blonde tells him her sorceress was right when she told her that a man from far away would come out of the sea to her. Rual asks what else did the fortune teller tell her? That he would take her away on a horse. Rual picks the woman up and carries her to the beach. The blonde asks him to stay. He says he can't because he has an important duty he has to perform. On the beach they kiss. He decides to stay a little longer.
Someone shouts for Fabiola. Rual wants to know who this Fabiola is and exactly where are they. The blonde tells him that is has reached the villa of Fabius. Rual says he has to go because he is expected there. He asks her when they shall meet again, but says she will not tell him. She says the prophecy has failed because he did not take her away with him. So rual grabs her and puts her on his horse and rides closer to the villa. He lets her off close to where he will be. The sorceress greets Fabiola, the blonde, and Fabiola tells her she just met the man of the prophecy. But, says the sorceress, to meet the man while the moon is full. Fabiola says she doesn't believe that and asks the sorceress for help her make the prophecy come true. The sorceress agrees.
The Praetor of Justice arrives. He says Constantine will be here in one week. Fabius asks Fulvius if he and his allies are afraid that Constantine will free the slaves? Fulvius answers that of course they are afraid. The Emperor says if the slave are freed they will still stay and be even better workers. He says the times are changing and the Romans need to be forward looking. Fabius says he asks only two things of his people: respect the right of Christianity to exist and free the slaves!
This creates a big stir among the Romans. They believe Fabius has gone too far this time. But Fabius says there are now 30 legions of Roman soldiers who are Christians and everyday there are more and more Christians being created. Fabius then promises Lucius and all the other slaves that soon they will be free.
The gladiators are brought out to amuse the people. One of them is Rual. Fabiola hides so he won't see her. Rual is so much better than his opponent that he runs circles around him making everyone laugh. Rual wins the match, but no one demands the loser to be put to death. He is dismissed. Fabius decides to wrestle Rual. He whispers to Rual that this will be their only chance to talk. Fabius asks what are his instructions? To watch Faviolus. Fabius says he is the man standing close to his daughter. Rual looks over and sees the blonde woman that he loves. He gives her a dirty look.
Fabius ends the match. He says he would have won if the young man didn't have so new moves. Flaviolus and others allied with him ask Rual if he would like to have them get him a new patron, because certainly he has lost the patronage of the man he just defeated. Rual tells them yes. The women come and want to crown Rual. But Fabiola says that this is her right seeing it's her father's house. Fabiola pretends to read his palm saying that all Rome awaits this man who be great, but not a woman. The she mocks Rual by saying he is a king -- a king of impudence. As everyone goes inside, Rual slowly walks away. She watches him but she is informed that her father wants to see her. Fabiola tells the messenger that she does not want the gladiator to leave.
Fabius tells his daughter that she should not be taunting that gladiator and that she shouldn't be mad at him. Fabiola says that it's her father she is angry with because he has been too impetuous -- not just with the wrestling, but with the freeing of the slaves. Fabius tells her he has planned the freeing of the slave for a long time. But there is something else he sees that is bothering his daughter. He wants to know what it is and she tells him it is because he is sending the gladiator away. Does she like this fellow? Yes, she says, and he mustn't go away. Dad says that there's no way he can stop the man from going away now. Fabiola says he can if he wants to. Find a way!
Flavius and his cronies come to tell Fabius to change his mind and change his will about freeing the slaves. This makes Fabius very angry and he tells them all to get out! They all leave. He says now he is all alone. Not even his daughter supports him. He sits down to think. On a little embankment a young man prepares a sling shot with which to kill Fabius. Someone calls for Lucius, but before Lucius can get to Rual, Fabius is dead. A woman screams when she see the body. Everyone comes running. Fabiola comes to see her father's body. Did anyone see any people around the body? Yes, says the sorceress: there were the four Christian messengers who going to take the will. The four Christians decide to leave as fast as they can.
Fearing retribution, the Christians seek refuge in the catacombs outside the city. Leading them is an officer of the praetorian guard named Sebastian. The sorceress with her hands tied. Sebastian frees the sorceress and lets her go. The sorceress is impressed by being let go. She stays to talk with Sebastian. She says she blamed the Christians because she wanted to protect Rual who she saw in the area of Fabius. She says Fabiola also saw him.
The sorceress sees Rual among the crowd. Flaviolus and Fabiola arrive at the ceremony in honor of her father. Flaviolus tells a conspirator to make Rual a praetorian guard where he can keep an eye on him. Another conspirator harangues the crowd stirring them up to take vengeance on the Christians. Fabiola tells her people to take her away from this place. She goes to see the sorceress, who tells her that she saw the Christians and it was a revelation. They don't believe in violence and they set her free. The sorceress says it's possible that Rual did kill her father. Fabiola emphatically: "I won't believe it." And she wants to know why the sorceress put the blame on Rual? The sorceress say she wanted to talk and everything she said is the truth.
A sign goes up: The Imperial Guard is authorized to hold for judicial prosecution all slaves of the household of Fabuius Severus." Sebastian is given an order by the conspirators to start the arrests of the Christians tonight. Sebastian says if Constantine knew what he was order to do, Constantine would order him to disobey.
The Christian gather in their hiding places. The Sorceress and Fabiola join them. They are surprised to see that Lucius is a Christians and that he holds a high position among the Christians. Sebastian comes to arrest the Christians, who feel that he has betrayed them. Sebastian tells them he is following orders. He sees Fabiola and asks what she is doing here? She just asks him how can he arrest anyone? Sebastian says it will all come out in the trial.
At the trial Rual will be the last witness to testify. Sebastian tells him this is the opportunity for which they have been waiting. Rual's testimony sheds a whole other light on the case against the Christians. He says a missile killed Fabius because there was absolutely no one around to kill him. The Christian messengers arrived after Fabius was dead. Then Flaviolus and Manilus told him to tell no one that Fabius is dead and not to answer Lucius who was calling him.
Flaviolus comes down to say that it was the Christians who persuaded Rual to lie. But, he adds. Raul did not know anything about the conspiracy. He had no motive to kill Fabius. Then he asks for Fabiola to testify about Rual. She says Rual had no reason and that she believes him to be innocent. Fabiola says also that her father did not abandon the Roman gods. To this Rual objects. He says that Fabius's last words invoked Christ. Fabius was killed by his friends so they could stay in power. They want the Christians to die. One of the conspirators pushes Rual to the flooor.
The sentence is read. The Christians did it and they will receive
punishment. Rome is again plagued by an "orgy of persecution".
More and more homes are looted and destroyed and more and more are forced to
fight in the arena to amuse the Romans. Fabiola comes to see Rual in his
jail cell. He says he has nothing to say to her. Fabiola says that
she is leaving Rome and they will not meet again. Then she tells him that
this is not her fault. Everything would have happened the same way even if
she had not spoken. She tells him that he can save his life. She has
talked to the Prefect if he will repudiate all that
he said at the trial. He slaps her, which shocks Fabiola. He says: "Go back to your father's murderers. You belong with them." Fabiola leaves.
Sebastilan sends for the prisoner Rual. He orders Rual to go see Fabiola. Fabiola is glad to see him. Rual has a plan. He wants her to help him delay the executions until Constantine arrives. She tells Rual that she will help and knows exactly what to do.
Sebastian is imprisoned for letting the prisoner Rual escape. The conspirators will use Sebastian to start a rebellion amongst the Christians so they can save him. And they won't need to re-arrest Rual because he will be with the rebels. They can kill him then. Rual returns. He is told that they have arrested Sebastian and will execute him in the morning. (The messenger, however, was in the employ of the conspirators.) Rual is going to lead the rebellion.
In the morning the Christians ride to the place of execution. Sebastian speaks to the Roman soldiers about Christ. Rual and the Christians stop to listen to him. Manlius arrives with his archers. And the Christians are in armed resistance against Rome. Manlius tells his archers to kill Sebastian, but they all deliberately miss. So Manlius grabs a bow and shoots an arrow that lands in Sebastians's chest. Meanwhile, Rual had run up and grabbed a bow and arrow and he shoots Manlius right through the neck. Sebastian is disappointed in Rual. Rual swears to Sebastian he will never kill again. Sebastian dies.
At the arena the Christians are being killed in all sorts of devious ways to amuse the Romans. Flaviolus is told that Fabiola has become a Christian and she is with them now. And if Fabiola is a Christian, then who will believe that the Christians killed her father. They start looking for Fabiola. Lucius tells Rual that he thinks Rual did his duty in way in which they can't understand. A soldiers tells Rual to come with him. Someone tells Lucius that Fabiola is here. He talks with Fabiola saying her presence here proved the innocence of the Christians. "You are now one of us." The Christians walk to their death in the arena. A soldier pulls Fabiola aside so she doesn't go into the arena. But Fabiola sees Lucius go into the arena.
Flaviolus talks with Rual. He wants Raul to go in and fight. He offers Raul a deal. Go in and fight and save the rest of the Christians. Rual thinks about it. Flaviolus says the Christians are really all women at heart. They are all cowards. The lions are released into the arena. They grab the Christians, kill them and then eat them. One of the guards tells Rual that the Christian soldiers are all over the arena and ready to go. "Don't fail them!" Rual tells Flaviolus that he will fight.
The Romans want Fabiola to sit in the imperial box to watch the massacres. If she consents, Rual will not be compelled to fight. Rual goes out into the arena. But he busts his spear and tells everyone that Sebastian has told them that they must not fight. He does not kill his enemy, but wears the man down until he drops. Then he has to fight another and another. Rual becomes so exhausted himself that he collapses. His opponent does not kill him, but throws away the sword. Now Fabiola runs out onto the field to be with Rual.
Now everyone sides with the Christians and come onto the fields of the arena.
The legions of Constantine finally arrive.
Good movie but has historical problems. The Roman ruler in 12 A.D. was Caesar Augustus (Octavian), not some guy named Fabius. The persecution of Christians by the Romans continued from the first century until the early fourth. It ended with the legalization of Christianity by Constantine I, who reigned from 306 A.D. to 337. The movie does succeed in making you feel sorry for the persecuted early Christians. The Romans sure thought of a lot of terrible ways to kill the Christians. The love story is okay too.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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