The story is reasonably familiar, featuring Philistines ("In a world of bronze they had discovered iron - and with it they crushed any disobedience without mercy"), and the usual Biblical oppressed Hebrews, consisting of a pious Mum and Dad, a prophet, a couple of zealots, three betrayers and an entire tribe of fickle, volatile and stupid Israelites. The Bible, I reflected, does not do the Jews any favours.
But then God is never one to do things the easy way (such as give the Israelites the secret of iron), so pious, elderly but barren Mum (Diana Rigg) is visited by an angel who tells her that she will have a son who will cast off yokes. His strength, decrees this capricious vision, will lie in his hair - which must never be cut. Unlike his foreskin, which is whipped off in the next shot and dropped into a vase (then, one hopes, shipped to Gaza and sold to the Philistines as an appetiser).
Time passes, the Philistines ride out for the occasional pillage; the boy is now a young man with sissy braids who, one breakfast-time, looks up from his mess of pottage and asks: "Father, how will I know when it's time to fulfil my destiny?" His father considers, but instead of replying "when the little hand is on the five and the big hand is on the 12", confesses that it is all in the hands of God.
By now Samson (played by someone called Eric Thal, who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mel Gibson) is into striding about and exhibiting his immense strength in curious fashion by putting small boys into tall trees. This arborophilia is brought to a sudden end by a dust-up with some Philistines, and Samson strides off into the desert.
Meanwhile in Gaza, the Philistine king (Michael Gambon) and the complex general (Dennis Hopper) are hanging out, practising swordplay, worshipping Baal and Astartit and watching dancers. Also present is Delilah (Elizabeth Hurley), a sultry temptress, who loafs around the palace all day in an orange sari and two hundredweight of ironware jewellery. Such a burden naturally depresses Delilah, who rests on couches most of the time, alternately smirking and simpering.
It can only be a matter of time before Eric and Elizabeth encounter each other. She is going for a walk in a wadi, and he is having a stride in the wilderness nearby, when suddenly out springs a savage lion! The lion alarms Samson, who fights it barehanded. Strangely, however, the appearance of the ravenous beast and the ensuing death struggle has little effect on the phlegmatic Hurley. She circles the battle making little "oh" shapes with her lips, as though someone on the same table were about to dip their sleeve in their custard. When Eric wrenches the animal's lower jaw clean off its head and is covered with gore, she permits herself the tiny smile of satisfaction that we later come to realise passes for extreme excitement in the Hurley household.
They next meet each other again on another of Delilah's camping expeditions to the desert. By now Conan the Israelite is Public Enemy No 1 in Gaza, and the complex general ("I too have known myself all my life, yet not at all") prevails on Delilah to ensnare Eric and deliver him unto his enemies.
So she takes him to her tent and bonks him till he tells his secret. And it is here that Hurley's alarming gift for dramatic understatement subverts the film - for you can only comprehend Samson's decision to confide his daft secret ("Promise you won't laugh?") in terms of unquenchable passion and reckless infatuation. Passion a la Hurley, however, consists of throwing your head from side to side while planning a shopping trip to Donna Karan, or licking your lover's chest as though he were the foil lid of a fruit yoghurt. Uncharitably I began to understand certain events that took place in LA 18 months ago.
No good could come of it, of course. Samson is blinded and brings the temple down on everyone. Delilah, calm to the last, reacts to the collapse of 10 tons of masonry about her with a moue of annoyance - as though a sparrow had just shat on her head. It is a fitting end.
Not all of the film is Liz Hurley's fault. Some of it is God's fault. Some of it is director Nicolas Roeg's fault. Much of it is Eric Thal's fault. But as I watched Liz being constantly underwhelmed by her own emotions, I couldn't help reflecting that while some people are naturally gifted with something called "screen presence", Hurley has natural screen absence. In appearance, style, accent and delivery, she is the child of a marriage between Joan Collins and Roger Moore: one that oddly flatters both of them, making Joan seem young, and Roger a Method actor of the De Niro school.
Ms Hurley has probably grown out of Harvey Nichols, the subject of a surprisingly tedious and badly constructed documentary, Network First: Conspicuous Consumption (ITV, Tuesday). I remember similar films being made by trainees at the BBC (although at a quarter of the length), who thought that merely being in an interesting, glitzy place would of itself be interesting.
Two things did engage me, however. The first was the banal homily from the store's MD, describing Harvey Nicks as "an exclusive lifestyle store. Its exclusivity lies in its high quality, differentiated from others because it's so, er, exclusive".
In what exactly does this "exclusivity" lie? The store most certainly does not exclude customers on the basis of taste or intelligence. One plumpish, over-tanned matron from Weybridge, visiting town with her girlfriends, chose the least suitable thing in the shop - a zebra-print trouser suit - and paraded around in it like Cruella De Vil played by Roseanne Barr. "It looks fab. It really suits you," one of her friends lied. "But what do you think? If you love it, then have it." Desperate, she took it.
There are many forms of searching for the perfect, as Desperately Seeking Something (C4, Monday) has been pointing out for four weeks. In the last of the series we came across a woman in late middle age, of the sort who you usually find in chemists doling out sensible advice about laxatives. Except this one was measuring carefully the 33 levels of consciousness between here and heaven. She was sat in a large room with fellow members of The Lighthouse, whose act of worship consists of playing a video of an American woman with a wild haircut and a voice like a Dalek, wielding a large sword and intoning, "I am the being of violet fire, I am the purity God desires". The congregation then joined in, accelerating the repetition until they were speaking in tongues. At which point they had a lecture about angels. "Meet my best friend," invited the speaker, "the archangel Michael!" (Who would he be played by, one wonders? Neil Pearson, hopefully.)
Then it was off to a midnight wood near Maidstone, to dance around a fire with "chaos magicians". Their credo is "nothing is true, everything is permitted" - thus explaining their appeal to the type of man who never properly emerges from adolescence, and to the type of woman who likes that type of man. "Canollus, synergy of man and beast! Do our will!" they yelled. I think we can guess what their will would be, once the cameras went away.
Pete McCarthy - the holiday programmes man - was our guide through the cults and beliefs. One of my favourite reporters, he is witty, sympathetically ironic and a very good writer for television. On being felt up by a lady chaos magician his script line was: "What is the polite thing to do in these situations?" He made his excuses and left, joining up with Britain's only Daoist priest, Allan Redwood of Epping - a bloke with a long beard, a funny hat, a great life and plenty of screen presence.Reuse content