There is no other film on the subject of art that is better than this one in my opinion. Irving Stone’s best-seller was a great read, but in this case the film is better than the book. It centers on the creation of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the contentious but invigorating relationship between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II; one drove the other "to complete his work", and even their verbal battles were productive. It is about the courage of putting one’s vision into reality, the hard work, and the faith in one’s self and in God.
The script by Irving Stone and Philip Dunne is fabulous; the words flow like sweet wine and there is not a single unnecessary scene, or rarely one that is not meaningful. The direction by Carol Reed is meticulous, the cinematography by Leon Shamroy a marvel, and the score by Alex North adds much to the film. The costuming and sets are lavish for the papal quarters and the Medici household, and give one a sense of 16th century Rome, and the depictions of the fresco painting technique is interesting and educational.
Charlton Heston, gaunt and bearded, is brilliant as Michelangelo, as is Rex Harrison as the warrior pope. The interactions of these two actors is riveting, and the dialogue between them worth hearing repeatedly. Others of note in the cast include Diane Cilento as the Contessina de Medici, Harry Andrews as Bramante, and Tomas Milian as Raphael (the most famous papal portrait I know of is by Raphael, of Pope Julian II).
Though Stone’s book and script take much artistic license, there is also a good deal of accuracy. This period of 16th century Italy was one of the most fascinating in all world history, and Pope Julius II was not only one of its greatest art patrons, but also an extraordinary man.
This is a film that moves me to tears with its beauty, and brightens my mind with its words. If you are interested in the artistic process, don’t miss this magnificent film.
The film includes a Prologue, a mini-documentary of modern-day Rome and Florence, which traces Michelangelo’s life, from his birth in Tuscany in 1475, showing his many wondrous works, including an early sculpture he did at the age of 15, through his death in 1564. Total running time is 139 minutes.