I haven’t been to the cinema in years and to be honest I’ll probably never go again after watching King of the Sands, the new biographical film about the founder of Saudi Arabia, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
At its world premiere in Piccadilly last night the great and the good of London’s Arab community turned up to watch Syrian director Najdat Aznour’s epic, all dressed up to the nines.
And then they proceeded to shift uneasily in their seats for two hours, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
That’s what 120 minutes of crude political propaganda combined with wooden acting and perverted sex scenes tends to do to you.
King of the Sands tells the story of the rise of Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud from an obscure tribal leader in Kuwait to the undisputed ruler of the Arabian Peninsula.
The film depicts Ibn Saud as an unscrupulous, hypocritical, bloodthirsty womaniser who was in bed with religious fanatics and was a pawn of the British.
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It starts out with some awkward references to 9/11, 7/7 and Osama bin Ladin – presumably an attempt to link those events and that character to the Wahabism that Ibn Saud espoused.
Then we meet the young Ibn Saud (played by out-of-his-depth Italian actor Marco Foschi) who proceeds to rape and pillage his way across the Arabian Peninsula like some kind of cartoon villain. At one point he even does wudhu in the blood of some of his victims.
The scenes with the wild-eyed young Abdul Aziz are intercut with sequences of the wheelchair-bound older man who reflects on his life’s dark achievements while simultaneously deflowering young virgins.
The unnecessarily gratuitous sex scenes are a feature of the film with beautiful young virgins repeatedly being served up to the evil old codger who delights in doing all manner of unspeakable things.
Another feature of the film is the amateurishly choreographed sword-fighting sequences which have the believability of Tony Blair banging on about WMDs.
And to top it all off most of the lines are delivered by Italian actors who have a long distance relationship with the English language.
So to cut a very boring long story short, the film meanders on with dodgy acting and even dodgier accents before climaxing with Ibn Saud agreeing to acquiesce in the creation of Israel and to serve the British faithfully for the rest of his life.
The positive bit …
Ok, here’s the bit where I struggle to say something good about the film in a futile quest to be balanced and fair.
So here goes:
Well I guess this is probably the first time the former Saudi King has been depicted this way in an English-language feature film so that in itself is momentous. It might get the debate started on his legacy etc etc.
And err… actually I give up.
To be honest, I’m no fan of Ibn Saud myself and feel that his life story is worthy of criticism – the manner in which he won power by eliminating his rivals and working with the British and later the Americans; the extravagance of his court and his sons; the relationship with the Wahabi religious establishment.
And I really would have liked to have seen a serious, plausible film which addressed those issues. But instead what we got was a movie of dubious historical accuracy, a ludicrous waste of time which even critics of the House of Saud would struggle to take seriously.
What a wasted opportunity!
Moreover, if this film is intended for a mainly non-Muslim audience they will struggle to differentiate between the Wahabism the director seeks to criticise and the religion of Islam itself. All they will see is wild-eyed fanatics seeking to kill, maim and rape.
At the end of the film some members of the audience decided to clap – out of embarrassment and pity I suppose. And me? Well I just fled as fast as I could and believe you me even Usain Bolt wouldn’t have caught up.
King of the Sands is due to be released at selected cinemas around the UK but if I were you I’d spend my evening tidying my sock draw instead.