This week, I'm pretty busy with revision and other things for the start of term. However, I am pleased to present you with some films set in the ancient world that you might enjoy.
Plot, as I'm sure you're all aware, is that the Greeks vs Trojans in a fight to the death over Orlando Bloom stealing someone's wife.
Historical accuracy? Well, Troy is based on Homer's epic poem, The Illiad, rather than on a sound historical account, and the accuracy of the events that it depicts has been debated for (literally) millennia. So... as mentioned above, costuming is probably not accurate to time period. The plot, however, doesn't really manage to stick with the plot of The Illiad. For a start, where have all the Gods gone? What about the duration of the war? Where are Priam's other sons? I'm sure any classics geeks out there would be glad to add to this list for me.
Fewer people have heard of this one, perhaps for good reason. Plot: The Ninth Legion mysteriously disappeared north of Hadrian's Wall, losing their Eagle standard. Now, a (slightly) crippled army officer and his British slave must get it back.
Any other historical inaccuracies? The whole plot, for a start, is ridiculous. The IX legio Hispania is last attested in Dacia (Eastern Europe) rather than Britain, and was probably disbanded due to ill-luck, than completely destroyed. However, since that is the plot of the book (Rosemary Sutcliffe's The Eagle of the Ninth) on which this film is based, I'm prepared to overlook it. My favourite inaccuracy is that of the crossbow brooches (see figure below). In the film, these are worn on the chest like modern brooches, with short bar pointing up, like a crucifix. The Romans themselves would have worn them the other way up (like the inverted or 'satanic' crucifix), and protruding from the top of the shoulder, like a clothes peg. It's my favourite because it means whoever designed the costumes really bothered to do their research, and then someone later mis-heard them, and now they have upside down Roman brooches in their film.
This is practically a genre classic by now, isn't it? Even if that genre is just slow-mo and cartoony blood. You can tell because Spartacus: Blood and Sand tried, and failed to replicate it.
Plot: This is SPARTA! and they send out 300 troops to hold back a Persian army of c.1,000,000. Yeah, okay guys.
Like the others, it's well put together, but unlike the others, the poor dialogue doesn't grate because it somehow fits with the ridiculous machismo of the rest of the film. It's slick, silly and with a whole lot of violence. What's not to love?
Historical inaccuracies? It'd be easier to list things that were accurate. Firstly: why aren't they wearing any clothes? Well, traditionally the Spartans went to war naked, but they'd started wearing armour by the time they fought with the Persians, so... artistic license? Really, just 300 guys? Yup. 300 Spartans, that is. About 20,000 people from other cities, but the Spartans were having a festival, and it's quite hard to spare more dancers when you need to put on a show. Fun fact: the Spartans were actually the dance champions of the Greek world. Those ridiculous one liners? From Herodotus and Diodorus we get "Tonight we dine in hell", "Then we shall fight in the shade" and "You'll find plenty of earth and water down there [the well]". Sadly, they left out the bit where the Athenians threw their own Persian envoys into The Pit.
Life of Brian
Classic, guys, classic. Plot: Monty Python comedy film about Judean Messianic figures around the time of Jesus. How could it fail?
Inaccuracies? Actually, it does quite well. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of ineffective splinter resistance groups, all believing slightly different things about god. There were also dozens of chanting prophets, and dozens of people hailed as the Messiah. Jesus was either the real one, or incredibly persuasive, depending on your point of view. As a Roman citizen, you had the right to be tried by the governor, or the Emperor (a right enjoyed by both Brian and St Peter), and as I'm sure we're all aware, crucifixtion was relatively common for executions.
Hang on: what happened to Gladiator?
Sorry, but I just don't like Gladiator. I know it won all those Oscars, but I really don't think it's that good. The opening battle scenes are fantastic, as is the closing twenty minutes, but as far as I can tell nothing happens in between. Russel Crowe just felt wooden to me, and I couldn't really understand his motivavtion for any of it. Joaquin Phoenix was excellent, but made everyone else look worse by comparison. And the 'historical consultant' was forced to write letters of apology en masse to other ancient historians.
Note: I have excluded the Golden Age '50s classics (e.g. Ben Hur), because otherwise the whole list would just be those films. I have also excluded Agora, a recent film, because I haven't seen it yet, though people say it's pretty good.