I just watched a movie from 1948 based (loosely) on Cardinal Wiseman’s Fabiola. I love that book, but the two adaptations I have seen so far take the story for a "suggestion."
While there is a 96 minute English dubbed version, I got the 2 1/2 hour Italian version, in Italian, with no subtitles. I can’t say I know all that much Italian, but I think I have a fair idea of the plot at least, and the movie still held my attention. I read that the English version doesn’t make sense–the editing makes the plot incomprehensible, so I went for the Italian. I may not have comprehended the language much, but I got to see the full movie.
While St. Sebastian and St. Tarcisius make it into the movie from the book, St. Agnes is missing. There is a girl that plays an Agnes-like character, but it’s not St. Agnes.
The scenes of Christian persecution (crucifed, burned, thrown to the lions) go by rather quickly. This section seems taken from Quo Vadis rather than Fabiola, although the story of St. Pancratius (which is also missing in the movie) had some scenes in the Coliseum. The movie scenes of persecution are somewhat gruesome–more than the 1951 Quo Vadis but less than the 2001 Polish-produced Quo Vadis. The 2001 version is awful, but has, of course, better special effects. They made the lions’ scene quite repulsive, though.
A number of writers contributed to Fabiola, and the result is a number of genres mixed-in. There are gladiator fights, but also a murder mystery, a love story, the story of the persecuted Christians, and a trial.
Overall, I would say the movie is worth watching for a number of reasons (costumes and sets are spectacular, and the acting is good), but it disapoints if compared to Cardinal Wiseman’s book. I would think, "Hey, that made it in," or "They changed that," or "They left that character out."
I would like to see the 1917 movie Fabiola, which is no doubt closer to the original book. To do so, however, is quite difficult. It has been restored by Cineteca Nazionale in Rome, but they don’t plan on making it commercially available. [UPDATE June 1, 2013] — There is a 61 minute version of the movie (listed as from 1918) out on the Internet, and I have seen it. The official run time is 85 minutes. I suspect the restored version is longer. The version I saw, however, has many elements from the novel, and a strong focus on the character of St. Agnes. St. Sebastian plays a lesser role, and here alone St. Pancratius is seen, including his martyrdom. I beleive this movie could be a starting point for a new adaptation of Fabiola.
The more recent adaption of Fabiola, Rivolta degli schiavi (1961), brought back St. Agnes, but strayed even farther away from Cardinal Wiseman’s book overall, producing a rather forgettable result.
Will anyone take on the challenge of making a new adaptation of this novel? I ask the intercession of the saints portrayed in it to make this happen.