powered by AFI
In Arabia during the first century, Princess Fara celebrates her eighteenth birthday with her sweetheart, Prince Voldi, inciting the jealousy of suitor Prince Deran. Deran is the firstborn son of King Zendi, who married Fara's mother Arnon after her divorce from her first husband, Judean nobleman Herod-Antipas. Although the haughty Deran insists that Zendi facilitate his marriage to Fara, Zendi has promised Arnon to allow the girl to choose her own husband. After Voldi declares his love to Fara, Deran presents her with a costly necklace and proposes, stating that he will change the laws forbidding a king from marrying a princess who is not of pure blood. Fara, who has believed herself of pure blood, is shocked to hear from Deran that her father is a corrupt and hated Judean who has disgraced her mother. She runs to her ailing mother, who reluctantly explains to her daughter about her early marriage: Herod-Antipas convinces his father Herod that a marriage to Arnon will form an alliance between the ancient enemies of Judea and Arabia, thus preventing an attack on Judea by Rome. After the wedding, Herod-Antipas ignores Arnon but impregnates her with Fara, whom he calls Esther. One day, Arnon witnesses her playboy husband's legendary brutality, when he kills two bearers for losing a footrace. Soon after, Emporer Tiberius forces Herod to divide his kingdom, naming Herod-Antipas Tetrarch of Galilee. At the ceremony in Rome, Arnon catches her husband making love to his sister-in-law, Herodias, and renounces him. The shame of the ensuing divorce enrages the Arabians, who declare eternal opposition to Galilee and call for the assassination of the younger Herod. Back in the present, Arnon tries to temper her daughter's fury, reminding her of the kindness of men such as Voldi, but now Fara realizes that marrying Voldi will harm his chances of ever becoming king. Fara despairs over her inferior social status, causing Arnon to become distressed, which leads to her death. Determined to avenge her mother, Fara disguises herself as a boy, signs an oath to kill Herod and sets off alone, soon stopping for the night at an inn. When Zendi discovers the oath and the shorn locks of her hair, he sends Voldi after her. That night at the inn, three thieves attack Caesarian proconsulate Mencius, and when Voldi arrives searching for Fara, he helps Mencius escape. Grateful, the Roman offers to aid Voldi in his search for an Arabian "boy," but then jails the prince to protect him from the Romans, who assume he is scheming to kill Herod. Meanwhile, Fara continues on her treacherous journey, but one night, after she is beaten and her horse and coat are stolen, she must struggle to reach the next town on foot. There, she is treated kindly by wandering prophet John the Baptist, who counsels her to seek The Preacher, a Nazarene who says he is the son of God. After switching clothes with a beggar boy to avoid further notice, Fara seeks shelter from a storm under an overturned boat. Just off the coast, fisherman Simon-Peter battles the elements and manages to save his catch, with the help of his crew, John, James and Peter's brother Andrew. In the morning, Peter discovers a bedraggled Fara and, assuming she is a boy, offers her food. Later, when John and James irritate Peter by whispering about The Preacher, he impulsively fires them, leaving him no choice but to hire Fara. He takes her with him to sell his catch in Galilee, where the locals chafe under Herod's harsh treatment, and asks his mother Hannah to bathe the filthy "boy." Upon seeing Fara's silk underthings, Hannah deduces that she is a girl, and clothes her in her late daughter's lovely dresses. Fara, hoping to pass as Judean, calls herself Esther and pretends that she has come to hear The Preacher. In the nearby palace, Herodias, grown depraved and aloof, convinces the increasingly paranoid Herod to fete visiting Romans to improve his reputation with Pontius Pilate, who spurned them after Herod's divorce from Arnon and the subsequent rift with Arabia. Just then, an Arabian attempts to stab Herod, and although the ruler's armor protects him, his fears intensify. Meanwhile, Peter sees that Fara is female and demands that she leave his home, but later, when Herod notices Fara in the town square and sends an underling to see if she is single, Peter defends her as a member of his household. She soon secures employment as a translator of Greek prophesies at the palace, where Herod's proximity allows her to plot his murder in detail. Over the next weeks, Peter is tormented by his cynicism toward religion in the face of The Preacher's growing esteem. Although he gruffly denounces this latest holy man, he finds himself drawn to the hill where The Preacher speaks. Outside the palace one day, newly arrived John the Baptist embarrasses Herod in front of his Roman guests by proclaiming his imminent downfall. Herod has him jailed, arousing the antipathy of the Galileeans, including Fara, who sneaks into the cell and offers to help the prophet escape. John refuses, however, instead again encouraging Fara to seek The Preacher. The next time The Preacher speaks, Galileean magistrate David Ben-Zadok gathers the leaders of the local competing churches, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, to listen. Also in the crowd are Fara, who runs away when The Preacher urges nonviolence, and Peter. Although moved by the speech, Peter is still unconvinced until he carries a blind baby to The Preacher, who heals the baby and touches Peter's shoulder, transforming him into a devoted believer. That night, however, when his fellow townsmen taunt Peter, he responds with violence and then berates himself for being a weak sinner. The next morning, The Preacher calls to him, and after Peter identifies him as the true Christ, he calls Peter the rock upon which he will build his church and names him, John, James and Andrew to be his disciples. In Caesarea, meanwhile, Voldi attempts to gain release from captivity, and when Mencius refuses, still hoping to guard his friend, Voldi attacks him and escapes. At the same time, Herod vaguely recognizes Fara and approaches her, but she deflects his attention by reading a prophecy that declares a curse on Herod's kingdom. After overhearing Herodias plan John the Baptist's beheading, Fara tries to warn him, but is too late and instead witnesses a violent wind suddenly whip through the palace. Galilee is outraged at John's murder, and although Peter counsels Fara to turn the other cheek, her fury also grows. Soon after, Voldi arrives in town, and when he asks after an Arab boy, Peter brings him to Fara. As the lovers embrace, Voldi informs Fara that Zendi has died and Deran, now partially paralyzed, has ascended to the throne. David, realizing Esther is Princess Fara, tries to hide the pair when the Romans arrive, but they arrest Voldi and send him, under guard, back to Arabia. Upon hearing from Fara that Deran will surely kill Voldi, Peter offers to sail her to Arabia in advance of the Roman guard, who are traveling on horseback. Just then, Hannah is struck ill and calls to them. Fara urges Peter to pray for help, and to their wonderment, Christ appears and lifts Hannah from her deathbed. Still, Fara cannot overcome her desire to avenge her mother, and sneaks off to the palace. There she reveals her true identity to Herod who, though weakened by paranoia, tries to reconcile with her. Resigned to die at her hand, Herod urges her not to ruin her own life by becoming a murderer, and as Peter arrives and watches from the doorway, Fara recalls Christ's words and puts down the knife. Peter embraces her, declaring her free from her own chains, and they race to Arabia as the Romans arrive with orders from Pontius Pilate to arrest Herod. On the shore of Arabia, the guards recognize Fara and bring her to Deran, who is in the process of whipping Voldi to death for failing to rescue the princess. Fara stops the beating and convinces Deran to trade Voldi's freedom for Peter's healing powers. Deran vows to transform his brutal ways in exchange for the use of his legs, but despite Peter's warning that a worse fate awaits him, he soon retracts his promise and orders his guards to pursue Fara, Peter and Voldi, who have fled the city. The guards refuse, however, and Deran, in a rage, falls to his death. As the trio reaches Peter's boat, the guards inform Voldi that the counsel has named him the new king. Fara, realizing that marriage to her will jeopardize his rule, sails away from her beloved, promising to live her life spreading the word of peace. As they reach the open sea, Peter and Fara hear Christ's message: to love God with all their souls and love their neighbors as themselves.