Agora could simply be called a swords-and-sandals biopic, but that sells it short. See why now at On Demand.
23 Oct 2014 - 3:08 PM  UPDATED 11 May 2020 - 9:41 AM

Agora goes against the grain

I won’t bore you with the statistics on the extent to which women are absent from and subjected to gender stereotyping on the big screen – though if interested, start here – but because of recent events in my life, I’m acutely aware of these matters. To address this imbalance, I have to say that the best reason to watch Agora is because the lead character is a courageous, strong, independent and interesting woman, played with great conviction by Rachel Weisz.

It’s a realistic slice of history

Agora is a historical drama based on the preoccupations and life of astronomer and philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria, who was born in the 4th Century. Knowing something is based in truth gives it an edge and I understand that academics regard it is a reasonably accurate portrait, so it also gets a tick for credibility. It’s also a good reality check to be reminded of the sophistication of societies and people who lived hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

With heaps of drama

Hypatia was caught up in a lot of turbulence because of the religious conflict going on at that time and in that place. Her life makes for a very dramatic and action-packed film: there’s no car chases of course, but there’s plenty of rioting, fighting and brutality. And there was no skimping on the extras during filming.

Learn about early astronomy

If you fancy learning about planets and stars and such like tune in – because how they moved was the riddle that kept Hypatia on her toes. According to Wikipedia (see under 3.1 Development), astronomy hooked in Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar when he took a break in Malta after completing his euthanasia-themed film The Sea Inside and that’s what lead to Agora being made.

Sky high production values

Production values don’t make a film but they make a good film much, much better and Agora is very, very ambitious from a craft point of view, as borne out by the number of Goya Awards it won. These are Spain’s principal annual film awards and Agora swept aside the other contenders in the cinematography, production design, costumes, make-up and hair, special effects, production supervision and, for the record, original screenplay categories.

The spunky love interests

Given the first reason I gave to watch Agora, tongue-in-cheek I make this my last: the eye candy in the film, Hypatia’s two love interests, are played by the sultry brunette Max Minghella, son of late director Anthony Minghella, and the handsome and sexy Oscar Isaac.



11:35PM, Monday 18 May on SBS World Movies (available now at SBS On Demand)

Spain, 2009
Genre: Drama, History, Adventure
Language: English
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Oscar Isaac, Max Minghella
What's it about?
A historical drama set in 4th century AD Roman Egypt, about a slave (Isaac) who turns to the rising tide of Christianity in the hopes of pursuing freedom while also falling in love with his master, the famous female philosophy and mathematics professor, Hypatia of Alexandria (Weisz). Winner of seven Spanish Goya Awards in 2010.

Agora gets a tick for credibility
Agora takes the sword to fundamentalism