Swords Scandals Hollywood Lessons from ancient civilisations

In order to better understand the murky, treacherous ancient world, Declan Cashin rustles through some ancient film stock…

It’s a world full of back-stabbing, tribal war, fateful career decisions, revenge, petty jealousies and wanton carnal desire. Yes, Hollywood really is a crazy place, so it shouldn’t come as too much of a shock that modern studio producers are so enamoured with the ancient world, an era that just about puts Tinsel Town into the halfpenny place in terms of decadence, intrigue, and God(s)-defying shenanigans.

The latest sword-and-s(c)andals epic to march onto the big screen is THE EAGLE, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, and Hollywood’s sole survivor from the actual Roman era, Donald Sutherland.

In order to better understand the murky, treacherous ancient world, Declan Cashin rustles through some ancient film stock to piece together the lessons that Hollywood has thus far imparted to us through its tales from the mythical Greek and Roman civilisations.

*Remember the Titans:
These dudes – Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades et al – mean business. As flies to wanton boys are we to the Gods; they kill us for their sport. If you disrespect them with your boastful arrogance, then girlfriend, you are going to get served (see Clash of the Titans, 1981 and 2010, and Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief. Actually, don’t see any of them. Just take our word for it).

*What’s the Krak’?:
Continuing with the Titans, Kraken, in the ancient world sense, is not to be confused with the Irish term for fun/enjoyment/lively conversation/self-loathing/alcoholism/emotional abuse, and whatever else ‘craic’ connotes these days. Rather, Kraken is a monstrous ocean-dwelling creature, fashioned by that divil Hades, that will eat you and yours in an altogether gruesome manner.

*Be a man – rip off that shirt off, oil up your eight pack abs, and get stuck into those guys:
Men were men back in those times, and, according to Hollywood, those shirtless, ripped and buff blokes loved nothing more than getting up close and sweaty with other beefy dudes, with bonus points if you got to stick it to the guy with your giant pointy stick (see 300, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, The Eagle). Yeah, those guys loved a good battle. Wait, what else do you think we mean?

Totally unconnected to the last topic, those ancient types weren’t afraid to indulge their bedroom passions of the same-sex variety, even if Hollywood itself was too afraid to show it some two millennia years later in the case of Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis’ bath scene in Spartacus, and even Colin Farrell and Jared Leto in Alexander. However, with nice symmetry, the recent TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand more than made up for its filmic ancestor’s prudishness.

*Latin lovers:
The ancient world is a veritable hotbed of sexual debauchery and history-altering passion. Consider the case of Egyptian minx Cleopatra (1963) and her legendary lover Marc Antony, whose all-consuming lust, in different ways at different points in history, caused the bloody final war of the Roman Republic, almost bankrupted a movie studio trying to tell that story, and led to an even more tumultuous love affair between the actors inhabiting those roles, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Phew, we need a cigarette after that one.

*A nose job can make all the difference to history:
Not just a valuable lesson learned by the Jennifers Grey and Aniston. Apparently Cleopatra’s profile was so beautiful that “had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.” We’re sure that in Elizabeth Taylor’s mind that ego-massaging compliment extended to her too.

*Be careful who you sell into slavery: Pesky buggers those Roman slaves are, what with their terribly inconvenient, but dramatically compelling predilections to rise up and seek revenge for their enforced servitude. See: Spartacus, Gladiator, Ben Hur.

*Steal scenes while Rome burns:
The baddie needs to be of the truly boo-hiss, scenery chewing, panto villainy variety. See Peter Ustinov’s Oscar nominated performance as Emperor Nero in Quo Vadis, and Joaquin ‘Thumbs Down’ Phoenix’s Oscar nominated performance as Emperor Commodus in Gladiator. Not that the Oscars would typically go to that kind of screen hammery. No sir.

*A good catchphrase/movie tagline helps:
“I am Spartacus” (from, erm, Spartacus); “At my signal, unleash hell” and, “What we do in life echoes in eternity” (Gladiator); and, “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me” (Carry on Cleo).

*The ancient world has the oddest mix of accents:
You’re liable to hear anything: Irish, Californian, British, Australian/Kiwi, and Brando (in Julius Caesar).

*Don’t betray Rome:
That didn’t work out too well for Marc Antony in Cleopatra or Coriolanus (as will be seen in the forthcoming flick of the same title starring Ralph Fiennes).

*Beware the Ides of March:
Julius Caesar didn’t, and he got knifed in the back 23 times. Backers of The Eagle are smarter than that though. It’s not unleashed on the world until March 25th – well after the Ides of March (the 15th).

*Finally, never lose the sense of historical perspective:
Case in point, the tagline for the following 1964 Sophia Loren-Alec Guinness epic: “Never before a spectacle like [director] Samuel Bronston’s The Fall of the Roman Empire!” Really? Never before? How about the actual fall of the Roman Empire?

Words – Declan Cashin
The Eagle is now showing in Irish cinemas