Purim is celebrated by Jews around the world on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar. It commemorates the events of the Biblical book of Esther, and the mythical Jewish queen of ancient Persia who saved her people. Of note, Esther is one of two books of the Bible named after women, the second being the Book of Ruth.
Today, Purim is characterized by donatiing to charity (mattanot la-evyonim), eating a celebratory meal (se’udat Purim), a public recitation of the Scroll of Esther (megillah), Reciting additions to the daily prayers and the grace after meals (Al HaNissim), and exchanging gifts of food and drink (mishloach manot).
Many in the Jewish community also celebrate by dressing up in costumes and masks, holding Purim plays re-telling the Biblical story during which participants and the audience use noisemakers to block out Haman’s name, and eating hamantashen (literally translated to mean “Haman’s pockets”), a triangular pastry.
There are, in fact, movies that either re-tell the Purim story, or are otherwise related to the Biblical tale. Here are just some examples of some movies you can watch as we gear up for the holiday.
One Night With The King (2006):
This early 2000s epic is based on the novel “Hadassah: One Night with the King” by Tommy Tenney and Mark Andrew Olsen. It’s perhaps no surprise that so much of the script of this movie is based in explicitly Christian themes, considering the novel was written by two Evangelists.
That said, of the myriad of Queen Esther biopics that are available, this one is a standout for me which is why I’ve chosen to spotlight it. The cinematography is breathtaking. Film leads, Tiffany DuPont as Esther and Luke Goss as King Xeres I clearly have a natural chemistry that’s enjoyable to watch. I also appreciated the treatment of Queen Vashti, who was a wronged Queen but who is so often maligned in the story’s retelling.
There were also a couple of cinematic heavy hitters. Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones fans can rejoice seeing John Rhys-Davies as Esther’s cousin Mordecai. Omar Sharif appeared as Prince Memucan, in one of the final film roles of his career.
For Your Consideration (2003):
Schitt’s Creek fans can rejoice at seeing Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara in this comedy about a misguided attempt to make a movie that through a series of misadventures is rumored to have an Oscar nomination coming its way.
The movie follows the production of ‘Home for Purim’, a zany movie that doesn’t know what it is. It’s a period piece about a Jewish family during World War 2 in the southern United States. The actors are over the top, and the director gives increasingly bizarre directions that result in hilarity. Fair warning, the humor itself is incredibly dated at times.
Ultimately, this movie had the potential to deliver a strong message with the comedy. For all of the stereotypes of Jewish people controlling Hollywood, it was unfortunately accurate to have this production basically be told it was “too Jewish”. I for one would definitely support a low-budget Purim-centered movie, if any filmmakers were so inclined to make it.
Fill the Void (2012):
This Israeli drama tells the story of Shira, an 18-year-old Hassidic girl living in Tel Aviv. Tragedy strikes her family on Purim, and she must face the fallout. The movie deals with themes of love, loss, grief, and the importance of community.
Actress Hadas Yaron won an Ophir Award for her performance in this movie. These awards are the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars. Yaron also became the first Israeli actress to win Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her role.
The Death of Stalin (2017):
I know what you’re thinking…what does a Soviet dictator have to do with Purim? I’m so glad you asked. In fact, Joseph Stalin had a cerebral hemmorage, which later caused his death, on March 1, 1953 which happened to be the date of Purim that year. Antisemitism was rife in the Soviet Union. The Stalin era was characterized by the “doctors plot” in which predominantly Jewish doctors were accused of plotting against Stalin and his government. Was Stalin the Haman of his day? It’s for you to decide.
The Death of Stalin is top-tier political satire with unfortunately painfully timely parallels for our current time. With excellent performances, it’s a snapshot of a cult of personality and the very real people impacted by it.
As mentioned, there are a myriad of Queen Esther biopics to choose from, even though most of them come from an explicitly Christian lens. These include The Book of Esther (2013), For Such a Time (2010), The Thirteenth Day: The Story of Esther (1979), and Esther and the King (1960). There’s even a Veggie Tales version, and a Mormon musical. My personal choice for second best is Esther (1999), the American-German-Italian television film that was part of series about the Bible.
The story of Esther has enthralled generations, with a message that continues to resonate. It’s a classic story of good triumphing over evil. Enjoy the hamantaschen, and make sure your noisemakers are extra noisy to drown out the names of tyrants everywhere.