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Thursday July 19th 2018

The Agony And The Ecstasy | 1965

The Agony and the Ecstasy filming location: Piazza del Popoli, Todi, Umbria, Italy
The Agony and the Ecstasy filming location: ‘St Peter’s Square’: Piazza del Popoli, Todi, Umbria, Italy | wikimedia / pizzodisevo

Plenty of agony but little ecstasy in Carol Reed’s epic film, made in Italy, which plays like a dull 15th century sitcom, as slow and temperamental interior designer Charlton Heston tussles with tightwad Pope Rex Harrison.

Heston is meant to be Michelangelo, commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The real chapel was, not surprisingly, out of the question for filming, and was duplicated in Cinecittà Studios, where sections of the plaster set were gradually removed to reveal a huge photographic reproduction of Michelangelo’s original.

Cinecittà, where Federico Fellini made most of his films and where Martin Scorsese filmed Gangs of New York, does not offer tours to the public.

The ‘wet plaster’ which constantly drips into Heston’s mouth is chocolate pudding, by the way.

Michelangelo chooses the marble for his sculptures from the quarries actually used by the sculptor at Carrara, southeast of La Spezia up in the Apuan Alps of Tuscany. You can take a trip up to see some of the 400 separate quarries in three valleys – Fantiscritti, Collonata and Torano – which have supplied the best quality marble since Roman times. The quarries crop up again at the end of the opening car chase of James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.

‘St Peter’s Square’, as it would have appeared in 1508, was recreated in one of Italy’s finest medieval squares, the Piazza del Popolo at Todi, 25 miles south of Perugia off the E45 in Umbria.