After 1400 years, one Lady's story of faith, strength, and courage is finally coming to the big screen--and what a captivating tale it is.
Directed by Eli King and produced by the Enlightened Kingdom, The Lady of Heaven is a drama that intertwines two plotlines set centuries apart. In the modern-day, a young Iraqi boy named Laith (Gabriel Cartade) loses his mother to the country's ongoing conflict. Orphaned and traumatized, he is taken in by Raed (Oscar Garland), a kind soldier who graciously welcomes him as a surrogate little brother. It is there that he meets Raed's loving grandmother, Bibi (Denise Black), who narrates the tale of Lady Fatima (Albane Courtois), the daughter of the great Prophet Muhammad and first martyr of the Muslim faith.
One of the core challenges of bringing Lady's story to life was making the film as historically and culturally accurate as possible while still respecting Islamic religious codes
As a non-Muslim who has come of age in a world marred by the stains of terrorism, I must confess that my knowledge of both Lady Fatima's life and the motivation behind extremist groups were practically non-existent. Part of what makes the film's narrative compelling was its ability to outline the origins of groups like ISIS while juxtaposing the parallels between Laith's and Fatima's tragic life stories: Both were good, dutiful children to loving parents whose peaceful lives were dismantled by individuals motivated by a lust for power masquerading itself as religious devotion.
Moreover, what made this film so enjoyable to watch was its sumptuously lavish visuals. With the cinematography helmed by Mike Brewster, production design from Kes Bonnet, and costumes by Barbara Elum-Baldres, LOH has an undeniably eye-catching look--like Lawrence of Arabia meets 300. And like the latter, there is plenty of brilliant, brutally savage fight choreography on display here.
Speaking of visuals, one of the core challenges of bringing Lady's story to life was making the film as historically and culturally accurate as possible while still respecting Islamic religious codes, a task that the filmmakers executed with creativity and poise. To resolve this issue, King and writer Sheikh Al-Habib joined forces with a creative consultant--and Academy Award winner -- John Stephenson OBE to bring this story of faith to life in the most respectful way possible.
"Following Islamic tradition, no individual represented a Holy Personality during the making of this film. The performances of the Holy Personalities were achieved through a unique synthesis of actors, in-camera effects, lighting, and visual effects," the producers explained.
Suffice it to say; they have succeeded in that endeavor: The CGI is so good that the average spectator would not be able to discern that the actor portraying Muhammad is not an actual person, but rather an uncanny result of digital wizardry.
But perhaps most of all, what makes LOH such a good watch are the deft performances of its cast: Each character portrayed does not come across as a caricature, but rather a flesh-and-blood individual you might encounter in real life, from the nurturing, maternal presence of Bibi (played to perfection by Denise Black) to the treacherous duplicity displayed by Abu Bakr (an excellent Ray Fearon).
To sum it up, at the core of LOH is a story of faith, patience, and perseverance in the face of turmoil. Lady Fatima's story is one of ultimate kindness, forgiveness, family, and patience. She reminds all of us that there is a power in a gentle approach to the world, that grace is not weak, and that faith fortifies.
Whether or not you count yourself among the faithful, those are principles that I think we can all stand behind.