The very interesting two-part structure, turning on the repeated image of Saul’s crown rolling downhill, chooses Abigail in the first and Bathsheba in the second as central images. This is a satisfying formal layout, as the parallelism makes for a revelation of character or fate.
Nervous brilliance is the key of Saul, and David is similarly high-strung when he is crowned. Leonard Nimoy as Samuel is a hoary, reverend personage, a prophet conferring the kingship of Israel. Franco Nero as Nathan is more direct, bringing the crisis to a head.
Sir John Gielgud has a voiceover as God, anciently sagacious in the utmost.
The reality being a thing of tears, the film is that, too, but being a film it has rather more to say than can comfortably be said. An atrocious film, really, because that is the truth of what it contains.
For the tears, two of the best mummers. For the rest, a thing of beauty filmed on location. There’s the Campidoglio whizzing by, other familiar sights. The cinematography is superb, Siliotto’s theme might recall “Tuppence a Bag” at the end.
The script carefully brings out all the facets in single lines interspersed through the largely visual text. The slaughter of a child, and then the apportioning of his parts to various children, is treated so directly that it includes a brief tag advertising a government website, yet evokes Browning and Shelley (Alan Bates reads Wordsworth in two voiceovers) among other things, perhaps.