Joseph, a Hebrew, is an Egyptian slave to Potiphar, chief of Pharaoh's palace guard. When Joseph is placed under the charge of Ednan, Potiphar's overseer, Ednan torments Joseph for his refusal to show deference for the Egyptian god Amun. But Joseph eventually earns Ednan's respect when he reveals that he knows how to read, and Ednan starts relying more and more on Joseph.
Joseph is eventually put in charge of Potiphar's home, but his wife begins to desire Joseph and repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, tries to seduce him. She ultimately becomes so angry at Joseph that she falsely accuses him of raping her and demands his execution. But Potiphar, knowing Joseph's trustworthiness—and his wife's infidelity—has his doubts. Potiphar speaks to Joseph in private and demands that Joseph give him some reason to trust him, and Joseph gives Potiphar his life's story from his youth:
Joseph is a son of Jacob (aka Israel) and the first of two sons to his mother Rachel, who later died giving birth to his younger full-brother Benjamin. Joseph also had a half-sister, Dinah, and ten half-brothers, Six of which came through his step-mother and aunt Leah, Rachel's older sister.
Jacob and his extended family make a pilgrimage to a fertile plane near the Hivite town of Shechem, where they are visited by the city's king, Hamor, along with his counselor and his son. While Jacob and Hamor make arrangements to pay taxes for the land, Hamor's son, also named Shechem, notices Dinah and takes a liking to her. Hamor invites Jacob and his family to come to a wedding celebration, and asks that Dinah accompany them. Simeon, one of Joseph's half-brothers, disliking the way Shechem looked at Dinah, suggests they resist Hamor by force, but Jacob rebukes him. The night of the wedding celebration, Shechem catches Dinah and rapes her. The next day Hamor and Shechem attempt to make amends by having Shechem marry Dinah. Jacob replies that Dinah can only marry a man who is of her faith. Hamor agrees that all the Shechemite men will convert to Jacob's faith via circumcision. While Jacob is satisfied, Simeon plots revenge against Shechem. While the Shechemites are recovering from their circumcisions, the brothers and other members of the tribe attack the fortified village, setting many of their buildings ablaze and killing many Shechemites including Shechem himself. Jacob is furious with his sons' ruthless actions and announces that now that they have become a stench to the people of the land, they must leave the area. During this ordeal of moving again, at Beth-El, Rachel gives birth to Benjamin, but dies soon afterward from exhaustion.
Nine years later, Reuben, Joseph's oldest half-brother, desires Bilhah, one of Jacob's women. Zilpah, one of Leah's handmaids, sees the couple together and tells Jacob, who angrily declares to Reuben that authority over the family will fall to Joseph instead. This adds even more fuel to Reuben's (and the other brothers') jealous anger toward Joseph. For reasons such as these, Joseph has seen the destruction infidelity can bring, and would never do such a thing, he tells Potiphar.
His story continues that while the brothers are out at work in the fields, they decide to kill and eat one of their own lambs, which is expressly forbidden by Jacob. They later try to tell Jacob that the lamb was killed by a wild animal; Jacob, a lifelong shepherd, is not fooled and he rebukes his sons for disobeying him. The brothers blame Joseph for Jacob's anger and accuse him of being a spy for Jacob.
Jacob is so pleased with Joseph that he gives him a "coat of many colors", which increases the jealousy among the brothers. Further exacerbating their hatred of Joseph is his frequent interpretations of his dreams that one day his brothers and his father will all kneel before him. Spurred on by Simeon, the brothers discuss killing Joseph, but Reuben doesn't want Joseph's blood on his hands. Instead, the brothers throw Joseph into a dry well pit, and then sell him into slavery to a group of Ishmaelite traders. Back at the encampment, the sons then show Jacob the coat (torn and bloodied by the brothers) and tell him that Joseph has been killed by a wild animal. Jacob is overcome with grief.
After listening to Joseph's life story, Potiphar then demands to know exactly what happened between Joseph and his wife; after he tells Potiphar of his wife's attempts at seduction and his refusal to accede to her demands, Potiphar then calls in the household and announces that Joseph will go to Pharaoh's prison. When Potiphar's wife complains that he has humiliated her, Potiphar merely responds that one humiliation deserves another.
Seven years later Joseph, now in charge of many of the prisoners, has earned a reputation as a talented interpreter of dreams. He makes two interpretations of the dreams of the Royal cupbearer and the Royal baker, both imprisoned on suspicion of theft. He says the cupbearer's dream means that he will soon be acquitted and returned to his post, whereas the baker's dream means that Pharaoh will have him executed. Both of these interpretations later come to pass just as Joseph prohpesied.
Years later, Pharaoh himself has two disturbing dreams: The first involved seven fat cows being swallowed by seven sickly cows, the second dream is a similar one involving seven full ears of corn consumed by seven withered ears. When his vizier and his staff cannot give Pharaoh an answer, the cupbearer and Potiphar inform Pharaoh of Joseph, so Pharaoh summons him from prison. Joseph's interpretation is that the seven fat cows and the seven full ears of corn mean that there will be seven years of great plenty; the seven sickly cows and the seven thin ears of corn signify that seven years of extreme famine will follow, which could take many lives.
Calling Joseph's interpretations "madness", but more offended that his dreams are being interpreted by a mere slave, Pharaoh orders Joseph thrown back in prison, but that night Pharaoh is again plagued by the same dreams. Now realizing the dreams are too important to ignore, Pharaoh again summons Joseph from prison and asks his advice about what can be done to avoid the deaths. Joseph suggests that Pharaoh should appoint a steward to have all the farmers give one-fifth of their crop to Pharaoh for storage for the coming famine, something that has never before been attempted in Egypt. Impressed with Joseph's suggestion, Pharaoh decides that no one, including his own advisers, has the ability to carry out Joseph's plan except for Joseph himself, so Pharaoh appoints him governor over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. He then gives Joseph a new name: "Zaphenath Paneah" (translated in the film as "the savior"), and also gives Joseph a wife, Asenath, confidant to Pharaoh's wife and daughter of the high priest of On. Potiphar, who now serves Joseph, gives Ednan into Joseph's charge as his assistant.
By the time the famine begins, Joseph and Asenath have two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. The famine is even more severe in Canaan; when Jacob learns of the abundance in Egypt, he sends all of his sons except for Benjamin to Egypt to buy grain. Joseph recognizes his brothers (though they don't recognize him), but when he notices they haven't changed in the years since they sold him into slavery, Joseph accuses them of spying and has them thrown into prison. Three days later Joseph gives them a chance to prove their innocence by bringing Benjamin with them on their next visit; he also retains Simeon in prison to ensure their return. Initially, Jacob refuses to accept the idea; Benjamin is Jacob's last link to the late Rachel, whom Jacob loved more than Leah. But when their food is again on the verge of running out, Jacob is forced to admit there's no other choice and reluctantly allows Benjamin to go to Egypt.
On their way back home the second time, Joseph's guards, led by Ednan, arrest Benjamin for theft (on Joseph's order, one of his silver cups was planted in Benjamin's grain sack). Joseph, still not recognized by his brothers, declares that Benjamin will stay in Egypt but the rest can leave. Simeon and several others overpower the guards by grabbing their spears, swearing that they would rather die than leave Benjamin behind and be subject to Jacob's wrath. Joseph confronts them about their willingness to put their lives on the line for another brother, but not for the first (meaning himself). After sending Ednan and the guards out of the room, Joseph tearfully reveals his true identity to all of them. Benjamin immediately embraces Joseph, but the others, overwhelmed by shock and shame, drop their spears. Joseph embraces each of them in turn, assuring them all of his love and forgiveness, especially Simeon, who tearfully admits that he is to blame for Joseph having been sold into slavery in the first place. As he embraces each of them, Joseph explains that God used his brothers' evil intentions for their ultimate good, preparing Joseph for his current position so that he can help and provide for his extended family.
Joseph sends his brothers home to bring Jacob and the entire settlement to Egypt where Joseph can provide for them during the remaining five years of the famine. Jacob and his extended family arrive in Egypt where he is emotionally reunited with Joseph and meets Manasseh and Ephraim for the first time.Ben Kingsley - Potiphar
Paul Mercurio - Joseph
Martin Landau - Jacob
Lesley Ann Warren - Potiphar's Wife
Alice Krige - Rachel
Dominique Sanda - Leah
Warren Clarke - Ednan
Monica Bellucci - Pharaoh's Wife
Stefano Dionisi - Pharaoh
Valeria Cavalli - Asenath
Kelly Miller - Tamar
Gloria Carlin - Bilhah
Michael Angelis - Reuben
Vincenzo Nicoli - Simeon
Colin Bruce - Levi
Michael Attwell - Judah
Davide Cincis - Dan
Rodolfo Corsato - Naphtali
Pete Lee Wilson - Gad
Silvestre Tobias - Asher
Diego Wallraff - Issachar
Michael Zimmermann - Zebulun
Jamie Glover - Benjamin
Rinaldo Rocco - Young Joseph (17 yrs)
Timur Yusef - Young Joseph (8 yrs)
Paloma Baeza - Dinah
Brett Warren - Young Benjamin (9 yrs)
Anna Mazzotti - Zilpah
Andrew Clover - Shechem
Arthur Brauss - Hamor
Eric P. Caspar - Bera
Anton Alexander - Hirah
Milton Johns - Cupbearer
Renato Scarpa - Baker
Peter Eyre - Vizir
Timothy Bateson - Priest
Nadim Sawalha - Ishmaelite
Josh Maguire - Manasseh
Gabriel Thomson - Ephraim
Oliver Cotton - Architect
Anna Zapparoli - Mistress
Directed by: Roger Young
Teleplay by: Lionel Chetwynd
based on the novel by: James Carrington
Produced by: Lorenzo Minoli and Gerald Rafshoon
Music by: Marco Frisina and Ennio Morricone
Director of Photography: Raffaele Mertes, AIC
Film Editor: Benjamin A. Weissman, ACE
Costumes by: Enrico Sabbatini
Supporting Actor: Ben Kingsley
Writers Guild of America-Nomination - Lionel Chetwynd