28 February 2011 | bkoganbing
Belief System Put To The Test
In the tradition of Becket comes The Royal Hunt Of The Sun, a piece of important history reduced to a personal struggle between two men. Only these two, Conquistador Francisco Pizarro and Emperor Atahualpa of the Incas have far more in common than they think.
The Royal Hunt Of The Sun was a successful play on Broadway running for 261 performances, written by Peter Shaffer. It won a Tony Award for young David Carradine playing Atahualpa. But in the film version Robert Shaw plays Pizarro and Christopher Plummer who was Pizarro on stage plays Atahualpa. I'm guessing that Plummer's Pizarro was a bit less rough around the edges than Shaw is in the film.
He's certainly a fascinating Atahualpa who like the early emperors of the Roman Empire took divinity unto himself. The problem is that when you're supposed to be a god, you have to occasionally do something really spectacular to prove your claim. That's what kind of undoes Plummer in the end.
As for Pizarro, he never claimed he was anything, not even a gentleman. He was a soldier by profession, an illegitimate kid who raised pigs as a young man and left to join the Spanish army of Emperor Charles V. Atahualpa was also born on the wrong side of the blanket and defeated his brother in a civil war for the Inca Empire. That's a most human act and Pizarro is quick to notice.
He also is a shrewd judge of the Inca psychology. When in that famous event he tricks Atahualpa into captivity, Pizarro realizes the empire built on a godhead emperor can't function without him. The Incas are paralyzed with the fact they're whole belief system is being put to the test and failing badly. Of course in theological discussions with Father Andrew Keir of the expedition, Atahualpa's not doing too bad himself. But these are only academic exercises.
This is not a faithful adaption. The whole scene at Charles V's court with James Donald as the Emperor is written for the screen. A whole lot of peripheral characters have been changed as well. Still the spirit of what author Shaffer was trying to say is realized.
The Royal Hunt Of The Sun is both entertaining and intellectually stimulating.