Constantine and the Cross
Biopic of Constantine the Great, set between 293-312 AD, from his days as Tribune to his accession as Roman Emperor of Gaul under the tetrarchy system and ending with his battle against the usurper Roman Emperor Maxentius in Rome.
Constantine is known in history as the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. This 1962 movie is a fictional-based-on-factual attempt to tell the story of his rise to power. The reality was that his rise was important for the believers of his day because they had been unrelentingly persecuted.
The picture is anything but HD, but starts with Constantine’s victory against barbarian hordes which earns him a trip to Rome. Ostensibly, it’s a trip for him to be honored, but he interprets it as a way to keep him from winning more battles and advancing his military career. He is a threat, and not just to his superiors, but to his rival, Maxentius, who has designs on power.
Along the way to Rome, Maxentius’ soldiers ambush Constantine and Constantine’s centurion friend, Hadrian, who is badly wounded. Christians hiding from persecution in caves, including a young woman named Livia, provide care after the fight, but not without cost: Maxentius is all too willing to shift the blame for the ambush to them.
While Hadrian is nursed back to health by Livia, a young Christian woman, Constantine arrives in Rome. The persecution is real — Christians are being martyred, sent to be eaten alive by lions. Constantine intervenes and saves a little boy from a certain mauling. Livia is imprisoned as an act of religious persecution, but Hadrian enlists Constantine to help her escape.
It’s a setup. A sentry is needlessly killed by Maxentius’ agents after Livia’s escape, so that Constantine will be forced — reluctantly — to run for his life, which also means leaving behind Fausta, who is his fiancee and, coincidentally, Maxentius’ sister. How’s that for a bit of romantic intrigue? Fausta is played by Belinda Lee, who was killed in a 1961 automobile accident on a trip from Las Vegas to Los Angeles before the movie was ever released.
Constantine is acclaimed Emperor of the West upon his father’s death, and learns just before taking power that his mother, Helena, also is a Christian, so ending persecution has personal meaning to him. He announces a policy of tolerance toward the Christians and marries Fausta.
Maxentius’ father, a former ruler, attempts to assassinate Constantine and commits suicide when the plot fails. Maxentius becomes ruler of Rome, continues the cruel persecution of the Christians, and has Livia tortured and killed. Fausta travels to Rome to sway him, but he holds her prisoner and conspires to attack Constantine’s forces in Gaul.
Emboldened by a vision of the cross, Constantine uses it as the sign to fight under, defeats his enemies, rescues Fausta and his mother, and assures freedom of worship to the Christians.