Aired on CBS the 3rd and 4th of this past January, The Dovekeepers miniseries is based on the novel of the same name by Alice Hoffman and tells the story of the demise of the zealots who held the clifftop fortress of Masada, the last outpost of Judea, against the Roman army in 72 A.D. While the book begins with each of 4 women telling their backstories of how they came to be in Masada and the final days before the Romans overtook the fortress, the movie begins with the two women who survived, cousins Shirah (Cote de Pablo) and Yael (Rachel Brosnahan), as they are questioned by the historian Josephus (Sam Neill) in order to set down a record not coloured by Roman pride.
The two women take turns, Shirah beginning with her own story and how she encountered Yael, a cousin whose father ignores her because his wife died giving her birth. Their lives separate afterwards as they survive harrowing adventures until they finally find each other again in Masada; they tell of their time there, the ways the warriors harry the Romans, the source of their supplies, their loves, jealousies, dangers, and their time keeping the doves which help provide the means of survival for the defenders.
Although the movie was presented differently (as is necessary in the transition from print to film), and the story was somewhat changed, it was brilliantly cast, the sets were great, and the story held true essentially to history and the Hoffman book. The set was the same set used for Gladiator, and Amram (Diego Boneta) was a fierce fighter with amazing moves, while the leader, Eleazar Ben Ya’ir (Mido Hamada), totally unknown to me, portrayed a powerful, charismatic leader able to convince about 900 people to die rather than to surrender to the slavery and cruelty of Rome. Rather than commit the sin of suicide, he appoints 10 warriors to kill everyone else, and one to kill those ten. Kathryn Prescott who played Aziza, Shirah’s daughter, was also excellent, torn between the young woman she is now free to be and the boy/warrior she was raised as for her own protection.
The story moved well and was beautifully filmed. One exception in the casting really distracted me. I kept thinking how much Josephus resembled Sinatra. I had never seen Sam Neill in anything before and couldn’t get over the resemblance. A great movie — though the book is still my all time favourite — that grasps the intensity and history of the time beautifully. * * * *
Available for viewing on the CBS website in some geographical locations; available on Amazon in DVD format.
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The movie Masada, starring Peter O’Toole