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Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy

3.7 4
Director: Carol Reed

Cast: Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, Diane Cilento


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Adapted by Philip Dunne from the novel by Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstacy is the story of the 16th century war of wills between Renaissance artist Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) and "warrior pope" Julius II (Rex Harrison). Commissioned to paint a religious fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the independent-minded Michelangelo balks at the


Adapted by Philip Dunne from the novel by Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstacy is the story of the 16th century war of wills between Renaissance artist Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) and "warrior pope" Julius II (Rex Harrison). Commissioned to paint a religious fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the independent-minded Michelangelo balks at the assignment. He is virtually strongarmed into accepting the job by Pope Julius, who wants to leave something for future generations to remember him by. Director Carol Reed deftly juggles screen time between the Pope's activities on the battlefield and Michelangelo's slow, arduous completion of his monumental task. The film also gingerly approaches the subject of Michelangelo's sexual orientation vis-a-vis his relationship with the Contessina de Medici (Diane Cilento). Too long and limited in subject matter to score at the box office, The Agony and the Ecstacy holds up pretty well when seen today, especially when viewed in a wide-screen print.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Every bit as majestic as its title implies, this lushly produced period drama focuses on the conflict between Renaissance artist Michelangelo and his powerful patron, Pope Julius II, during the painting of the Sistine Chapel. The clash of personalities is vividly dramatized; Michelangelo (played by Charlton Heston) is depicted as austere but proud to the point of arrogance, while Julius (Rex Harrison), who was known as the “warrior pope,” projects urbanity and determination. Equally stubborn, these larger-than-life men make determined and articulate combatants, but the story plays out against a historical backdrop of political and religious upheaval, making the stakes much higher than the scoring of verbal points by one man or the other. Director Carol Reed, working from Philip Dunne’s colorful adaptation of Irving Stone’s bestselling novel, focuses on a turbulent four-year period during which Michelangelo labored on the famous ceiling frescoes. Heston portrays the artist with great passion, and his characterization perfectly complements that of Harrison, whose Julius is unwavering but pragmatic. Pungent dialogue, skillful acting, and meticulously realized period detail combine to make The Agony and the Ecstasy one of the most memorable films of its type ever made.
All Movie Guide - Mike Cummings
Goaded by Pope Julius II, Michelangelo paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel between 1508 and 1512 in this lavish motion picture directed by Carol Reed. The production is a sumptuous feast for viewers who like films dripping with history, including watercolors trickling into Michelangelo's eyes while he lies on scaffolding painting the Book of Genesis from Adam to Noah. Although the film's script and character development are not exceptional, the production scores an A with a 16th century atmosphere peopled with robed theocrats, breastplated warriors, and quarrymen hewing prized Carrara marble from a great jaw of stone. Charlton Heston portrays Michelangelo with the same larger-than-life magnetism he exhibited while parting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments and driving his quadriga to victory in Ben-Hur (critics of Heston -- and they are legion -- opine that he performs with smaller-than-life dispassion in all of his films). Rex Harrison is appropriately nettlesome as Julius II, the warrior pope who conquers Perugia and Bologna and loves art as much as armor. Between wars and affairs of state, the impatient pontiff looks in on the recumbent painter atop the scaffolding and asks, "When will you make an end of it?" Julius understands only the ecstasy of viewing a finished masterpiece, not the agony of creating it. And there we have the central conflict: Julius the pragmatist versus Michelangelo the idealist. But Michelangelo paints on, often without compensation, for his is a godly enterprise for Holy Mother Church. Although the comely Contessina de Medici (Diane Cilento) temporarily distracts him from his work as she nurses him back to health after he suffers a fall, Michelangelo remains faithful to his true love, art. The flesh is willing, perhaps, but the spirit has work to do. Overall, the film is probably too long, but it does succeed in bathing the viewer in the 16th century, washing away 21st century qualm and anxiety with the healing balm of Renaissance majesty.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
20th Century Fox
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
[DTS 5.1-Channel Surround Sound, Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Charlton Heston Michelangelo
Rex Harrison Pope Julius II
Diane Cilento Contessina de' Medici
Harry Andrews Bramante
Alberto Lupo Duke of Urbino
Adolfo Celi Giovanni de Medici
Venantino Venantini Paris De Grassis
John Stacy Sangallo
Fausto Tozzi Foreman
Maxine Audley Woman
Tomas Milian Raphael
Alec McCowen Actor
Richard Pearson Cardinal

Technical Credits
Carol Reed Director,Producer,Screenwriter
L.B. Abbott Special Effects
Samuel E. Beetley Editor
John De Cuir Production Designer
Philip Dunne Original Story,Screenwriter
Jerry Goldsmith Score Composer
Emil Kosa Special Effects
Alex North Score Composer
Vittorio Nino Novarese Costumes/Costume Designer
Leon Shamroy Cinematographer
Jack Martin Smith Art Director


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The Agony and the Ecstasy 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although it lags once in a while, it is one of the greatest epics of all time. The clashes between Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison are incredibly entertaining and kept me rolling on the floor. Also a good movie for history buffs as there are a lot of references to the events of the time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the best artist movies I've seen! The expanse of the film is wonderful. The costumes, scenery, and the ceiling all show the care placed in the film. I show this to every art class that I have. Although probably not historically accurate - but what film really is - it still shows the clash of the Pope and the artist. Michelangelo is an artistic rebel that should be studied even more. My favorite scene is between him and the bishops on the point of nudity in the artwork. Classic!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago