Category Archives: Literature, Plays, Movies, and Television

Ralph Fiennes Presents William Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Lately, we have had our attention brought to William Shakespeare’s love of contemporary tragedy that is set in Ancient Rome. As with most things dealing with our favorite topic, we have jumped headlong into discovering the passion with Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar’, Mark Antony’s Speech in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar (or How William Shakespeare Hit a Grand Slam).

Our spirits soared when we discovered there was another play, aside from Antony and Cleopatra, which dealt with the glory of Rome. Today we share our experience as we present to you Coriolanus!

Theatrical Release Poster

Coriolanus is a 2011 British film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name, ultimately about the Roman-Volscian Wars, starring Ralph Fiennes in his directorial debut. Produced on a budget of US $7.7 million, the film was shot in Belgrade and other areas of Serbia using many locals as extras.

The first page of The Tragedy of Coriolanus from the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1623).

The film premiered on 14 February 2011 at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival and it opened the 2011 Belgrade International Film Festival. On 2 December of that year, it opened in New York City and Los Angeles.

As of February 2012, it has only been shown on a limited basis in other large US cities, such as Chicago. It received a full UK cinema release on 20 January 2012 after premiering at London’s Curzon Mayfair cinema on 5 January.

Considering a cast including Gerard Butler (Tullus Aufidius), Vanessa Redgrave (Volumnia), Brian Cox (Menenius), Jessica Chastain (Virgilia), along with Ralph Fiennes as Caius Martius Coriolanus, it is hard to see why there was such limited release. Maybe folks today just don’t appreciate Shakespeare like in years past?

The Rome of Coriolanus is facing an uprising from an economically restless people.

Set in a contemporary day alternate version of Rome, riots are in progress after stores of grain are withheld from citizens and civil liberties are reduced due to a war between Rome and the neighboring Volsci.

The rioters are particularly angry at Caius Martius, a brilliant Roman General whom they blame for the city’s problems. During a march, the rioters encounter Martius, who is openly contemptuous and does not hide his low opinion of the regular citizens.

Gerard Butler as Tullus Aufidius

Tullus Aufidius, the commander of the Volscian army who has fought Martius on several occasions and considers him a mortal enemy, swears that the next time they meet in battle will be the last. Martius leads a raid against the Volscian city of Corioles and during the siege.

Much of Martius’s unit was killed, but the commanding General Martius gathers the necessary reinforcements for the Romans to take the city. After the battle, Martius and Aufidius meet in single combat, which results in both men being wounded but ends when Aufidius’ soldiers drag him away from the fight.

Martius returns to Rome victorious and in recognition of his great courage, General Cominius (John Kani) gives him the agnomen of “Coriolanus”. Coriolanus’s mother Volumnia encourages her son to run for Consul within the Roman Senate.

Coriolanus elected Consul

Coriolanus is reluctant, but eventually agrees to his mother’s wishes and easily wins the Roman Senate. Initially it seems Coriolanus has also won over the Plebis (Common Citizens) as well due to his military victories.

A pair of scheming Tribūnī (Tribunes), Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Sicinius (James Nesbitt), are critical of Coriolanus and his entrance into politics. Fearing that his popularity would lead to Coriolanus taking power away from the Senate for himself, the Tribunes plot to undo Coriolanus and so stir up another riot in opposition to him becoming Consul.

When they call Coriolanus a traitor, Coriolanus bursts into rage and openly attacks the concept of popular rule as well as the Citizens of Rome, demonstrating that he still holds the Plebeians in contempt. Coriolanus compares allowing Citizens to have power over the Senators as to allowing “crows to peck the eagles”.

The Tribūnī term Coriolanus a traitor for his words and order him banished. Coriolanus retorts that it is he who will banish Rome from his presence.

No matter whom he is with Coriolanus is always the outcast.

After being exiled from Rome, Coriolanus seeks out Aufidius in the Volscian capital of Antium and offers to let Aufidius kill him, to spite the country that banished him. Moved by his plight and honored to fight alongside the great General, Aufidius and his superiors embrace Coriolanus.

The Volsci then encourage Coriolanus to lead a new assault on Rome, so that he can claim vengeance on the city which he feels betrayed him. Coriolanus and Aufidius coordinate a plan and lead a Voscilian attack on Rome.

Panicked, Rome sends General Titus to persuade Coriolanus to halt his crusade for vengeance. When Titus reports his failure, Senator Menenius attempts to dissuade the former Roman hero but is also shunned.

Coriolanus’s family pleads for him to return to Rome.

In response, Menenius, who has seemingly lost all hope in Coriolanus and Rome, commits suicide by a river bank. Finally, Volumnia is sent to meet with her son, along with Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia and his son.

Volumnia succeeds in dissuading her son from destroying Rome, and Coriolanus makes peace between the Volscians and the Romans alongside General Cominius. When Coriolanus returns to the Volscian border, he is confronted by Aufidius and his men.

They now also brand Coriolanus as a traitor. The Volscians call him Martius and refuse to call him by his stolen name of Coriolanus.

Aufidius explains to Coriolanus how he put aside his hatred so that they could conquer Rome but now that Coriolanus has prevented this, he has betrayed the promise between them. For this betrayal, Aufidius and his men attack and kill Coriolanus.

Coriolanus received positive reviews and currently holds an aggregate of 93% at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 134 reviews. The consensus states:

Visceral and visually striking, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus proves Shakespeare can still be both electrifying and relevant in a modern context.

2011 Berlin Film Festival Premiere

The film was nominated for Golden Berlin Bear award at the 61st Berlin International Film Festival. Ralph Fiennes was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer at the 65th British Academy Film Awards.

Coriolanus was released by Anchor Bay Home Entertainment on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States on 29 May 2012. Both home media formats of the film contain director commentary with Ralph Fiennes and a behind-the-scenes featurette entitled The Making of Coriolanus.

The film was later released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United Kingdom by Lionsgate Films on 4 June 2012. This release contained the same director commentary audio track but replacing the Making of… featurette with Behind The Scenes of Coriolanus with Will Young.

If you have yet to see, or even read, Coriolanus then we highly suggest you get moving. Set in a modern era with contemporary stars, there is no better way to see Shakespeare if you aren’t already a fan.

Thank you for stopping by and thanks for sticking by us. We hope that you keep spreading the word about us to everyone you know.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Dargis, Manohla. “He’s the Hero of the People, and He Hates It”The New York Times, 1 December 2011.

Katz, Josh. “Coriolanus Blu-ray”Blu-ray.com, 15 March 2012.

Maher, Kevin. “Ralph Fiennes peers outside the hurt locker for Coriolanus”The Australian, 4 February 2012.

Monk, Katherine. “Film review: Fiennes finds heart of Bard’s Coriolanus”The Vancouver Sun, 19 January 2012.

Sulcas, Roslyn. “A First Plunge into Directing Is Hardly Routine”The New York Times, 25 November 2011.

Wiseman, Andreas. “Why Coriolanus Matters”. Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus Blog, 31 March 2010.

“Berlinale 2011: Competition Films”Berlin International Film Festival.

“Coriolanus (2012)”Box Office MojoIMDb.

“Fiennes makes directorial debut in Serbia”AFP. 17 March 2010.

“Belgrade film festival closes, Ralph Fiennes’ movie opens 2011 FEST”Earth Times, 28 February 2010.

Coriolanus at Rotten Tomatoes

“Coriolanus – Blu-ray and DVD details”. Chris and Phil Present, 3 May 2012.

Coriolanus at the Internet Movie Database

Julius Caesar (or How William Shakespeare Hit a Grand Slam)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Last week we took a glimpse into the theatrical life of Julius Caesar as we listened to Mark Antony give his famous oration about the slain ruler of Ancient Rome. After the Assassination of Julius Caesar, we hear Antony exclaim Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!

Today we are going to delve deeper and take a look at what is The Tragedy of Julius Caesar!

The first page of Julius Caesar, printed in the Second Folio of 1632.

Written by William Shakespeare, this aptly named tragedy was believed to have been written in 1599. It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from the History of Rome, which also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

Although the title is Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus (Brutus) speaks more than 4 times as many lines as the title character. Also, the central psychological drama of the play focuses on Brutus’ struggle between the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship.

Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout.

Julius Caesar was originally published in the First Folio of 1623, but a performance was mentioned as early as September 1599. However, the play was not mentioned in the list of Shakespeare’s plays published by Francis Meres in 1598.

The text of Julius Caesar in the First Folio is the only authoritative text for the play. The Folio text was notable for its quality and consistency.

The play contains many anachronistic elements from the Elizabethan era, such as hats and doublets (large, heavy jackets), neither of which existed in Ancient Rome. Caesar is mentioned to be wearing an Elizabethan doublet instead of a Roman toga, and a clock is heard to strike and Brutus notes it with “Count the clock”.

The Triumphs of Caesar created by Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna (1484 – 1492).

The play opens with the people of Rome celebrating Caesar’s Triumphus (Roman Triumph) defeating Pompey‘s sons at the Battle of Munda. Two Tribuni (Tribunes), Lucius Caesetius Flavus (Flavius) and Gaius Epidius Marullus (Marrullus), discover the commoners celebrating, insult them for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar, and break up the crowd.

There are some jokes made by the commoners, who insult them back. The Tribunes also plan on removing all decorations from Caesar’s statues and ending any other festivities.

Beware the Ides of March!

In the next scene, during Caesar’s parade on the feast of Lupercalia, a soothsayer warns Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March.” Caesar disregards the warning, and the action then turns to the discussion between Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus (Cassius).

Cassius has a conspiracy to kill Caesar in the works and desperately wants Brutus to be part of it. In this conversation, Cassius attempts to influence Brutus’s opinions into believing Caesar should be killed.

Caesar rejecting the laurel crown

Brutus and Cassius then hear from Servilius Casca (Casca) that Mark Antony has offered Caesar the crown of Rome 3 times and that each time Caesar refused it, fainting after the last refusal. Later, in Act 2, Brutus eventually joins the conspiracy.

It was after much moral debate that Brutus decided that Caesar, although his friend and never having done anything against the people of Rome, should be killed to prevent him from doing anything against the people of Rome if he were to become Rex Romae (King of Rome). He compares Caesar to a snake that has yet to be hatched, and by killing it now would thusly save the world from the ill deeds the snake is capable of doing.

Caesar’s assassination is one of the most famous scenes of the play, occurring in Act 3, Scene 1. After ignoring the soothsayer, as well as Calpurnia’s (Caesar’s wife) own premonitions, Caesar comes to the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate). The conspirators create a superficial motive for coming close enough to assassinate Caesar by means of a petition brought by Lucius Tillius Cimber (Metellus Cimber), pleading on behalf of his banished brother.

Caesar predictably rejects the petition, and this is the signal to kill Caesar. Casca grazes Caesar in the back of his neck, and the others follow in stabbing him in the chest, back, arms, hands, and abdomen.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Brutus is last to stab Caesar, and it is at this point Shakespeare has Caesar utter the famous line Et tu, Brute? (And you, Brutus?). Shakespeare has Brutus reply “Then fall, Caesar!” suggesting that such treachery destroyed Caesar’s will to live.

The conspirators make clear that they committed this act for Rome, not for their own purposes, and do not attempt to flee the scene. After Caesar is killed, Brutus delivers an oration defending his actions, and for the moment, the crowd is on his side.

Antony’s oration of Caesar

It is now that Mark Antony makes a subtle and eloquent speech over Caesar’s corpse, beginning with the much-quoted “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” In this way, Antony deftly turns public opinion against the assassins by manipulating the emotions of the Plebeians, in contrast to the rational tone of Brutus’s speech, yet there is method in his rhetorical speech and gestures.

Antony reminds the people of the good Caesar had done for Rome, his sympathy with the poor, and his refusal of the crown at the Lupercalia, thus questioning Brutus’s claim of Caesar’s ambition. Then Antony shows Caesar’s bloody, lifeless body to the crowd to have them shed tears and gain sympathy for their fallen hero.

The People of Rome riot upon hearing Caesar’s will.

Continuing, Antony reads Caesar’s will, in which every Roman citizen would receive 75 drachmas. Even as he states his intentions against it, Antony rouses the mob to drive the conspirators from Rome.

Amid the violence Cinna, an innocent poet, is confused with the conspirator Lucius Cinna and is taken by the mob. The poet is subsequently torn to pieces for such “offenses” as his bad verses that were supposedly committed against Caesar.

The beginning of Act 4 is marked by the quarrel scene, where Brutus attacks Cassius for supposedly soiling the noble act of regicide by having accepted bribes. The pair then reconcile, especially after Brutus reveals that his beloved wife Porcia Catonis (Portia) had committed suicide under the stress of his absence from Rome.

The ghost of Caesar taunts Brutus about his imminent defeat. Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall (London, 1802).

The conspirators now prepare for a war against Mark Antony and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius Caesar. That night, Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus with a warning of impending defeat at Philippi.

At the Battle of Philippi, Cassius and Brutus, knowing that they will probably both die, smile their last smiles to each other and hold hands. During the battle, Cassius has his servant Pindarus kill him after hearing of the capture of his best friend, Titinius.

After Titinius, who was not really captured, sees Cassius’s corpse, he commits suicide. Brutus wins that stage of the battle, but his victory is not conclusive however.

Brutus takes his own life

With a heavy heart, Brutus battles again the next day. He loses and commits suicide by running on his own sword, which is held by a soldier named Strato.

The play ends with a tribute to Brutus by Antony, who proclaims that Brutus has remained “the noblest Roman of them all” because he was the only conspirator who acted, in his mind, for the good of Rome. There is then a small hint at the friction between Mark Antony and Octavius which characterizes another of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra.

Caesar and Brutus

Critics of Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar differ greatly on their views of Caesar and Brutus. Many have debated whether Caesar or Brutus is the protagonist of the play, because of the title character’s death in Act 3, Scene 1.

The logic and philosophies of Caesar and Brutus have even been compared, for Caesar is deemed an intuitive philosopher who is always right when he goes with his instinct. Brutus is portrayed as a man similar to Caesar, but whose passions lead him to the wrong reasoning, which he realizes in the end.

It has been acknowledged that some critics have tried to cast Caesar as the protagonist, but that ultimately Brutus is the driving force in the play and is therefore the tragic hero. Brutus attempts to put the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic) over his personal relationship with Caesar and kills him.

Did Brutus truly help kill Caesar due to his love of Rome?

He acts on his passions, does not gather enough evidence to make reasonable decisions, and is manipulated by Cassius and the other conspirators. Instead of saving the Republic, Brutus makes the political mistakes that ultimately bring down the Republic that his ancestors created.

Caesar compares himself to the Northern Star, and perhaps it would be foolish not to consider him as the character around whom the entire story turns. Intertwined in this debate is a smattering of philosophical and psychological ideologies on republicanism and monarchism.

The Northern Star himself, Gaius Julius Caesar.

It has also been written that the play reflects the general anxiety of Elizabethan England over succession of leadership. At the time of its creation and initial performance, Queen Elizabeth, a strong ruler, was elderly and had refused to name a successor, leading to worries that a civil war similar to that of Rome might break out after her death.

We hope you have enjoyed today’s journey. With so many variations of Julius Caesar that are available, there really is no losing in this game.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Evans, G. Blakemore. The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Mifflin Co, 1974.

Shakespeare, William. Arthur Humphreys, ed. Julius SYSR. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-283606-4.

Taylor, Myron. “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and the Irony of History”. Shakespeare Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 3, 1973.

Wells, Stanley and Dobson, Michael eds. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare. Oxford University Press, 2001.

Wills, Garry. Rome and Rhetoric: Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Yale University Press, 2011.

No Fear Shakespeare – Includes the play line by line with interpretation.

Julius Caesar – The British Library

Julius Caesar – from Project Gutenberg

Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar’

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

John Wilkes Booth (left), Edwin Booth and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1864.

I don’t know if it’s my lack of time for original ideas, or the fact I love things that are mainstays in history across the board from people to literature to film but I feel the need to share this now. Feeling inspired from yesterday’s post, Mark Antony’s Speech in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare, I feel the need to share both Shakespeare‘s play and connect with a younger audience at the same time.

When I came across this video I just couldn’t resist, so we now present Anya Rose’s Animated ‘Julius Caesar‘!

Believed to have been written in 1599, this is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from Roman history that also include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

Julius Caesar was originally published in the First Folio of 1623, but a performance was mentioned by Thomas Platter the Younger in his diary in September 1599. Based on a number of contemporary allusions, and the belief that the play is similar to Hamlet in vocabulary, and to Henry V and As You Like It in metre, scholars have suggested 1599 as a probable date of creation.

With so many versions, both on stage and on the big screen, having taken place there is no doubt of the significance of this piece. Granted Shakespeare has put out lots of quality work, few works maybe aside from Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet stand out more than Julius Caesar.

If we have inspired you here to take a peek at either the written, stage, or film version of Julius Caesar then we have been successful. If you don’t care at all, we’re shocked you even made it to this sentence.

No matter what, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

Ben-Hur: A 2016 Film Apatation of a Popular 1880 Novel

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With today being Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, it is now 6 weeks till Easter. The purpose of Lent (Quadragesima : Fortieth) is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, almsgivingatonement, and self-denial.

Because of this religious theme we thought we should experience the origins, in at least a film setting. That is why today we journey back to Ancient Jerusalem as we experience the newest take on Ben-Hur!

Ben-Hur is a 2016 American historical epic film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Keith Clarke and John Ridley. It is the 5th film adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace following the 1907 silent film, the 1925 silent film, the Academy Award-winning 1959 film and the 2003 animated film of the same name.

It has been termed a “re-adaptation”, “reimagining”, and “new interpretation” of the novel. The film stars Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur), Morgan Freeman (Sheik Ilderim), Toby Kebbell (Messala), Nazanin Boniadi (Esther), Haluk Bilginer (Simonides), Pilou Asbæk (Pontius Pilate), and Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus).

Jack Huston as Judah Ben-Hur

The story is of a Jewish nobleman, Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and his adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) are best friends despite their different origins. While racing horses, Ben-Hur is hurt and Messala carries him back to their family home in Jerusalem.

Despite the hospitality of Ben Hur’s mother Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the affections of sister Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), Messala feels alienated in his adopted family. He enlists in the Roman Army (Exercitus Romanus) and fights in the Roman Empire‘s wars in Germania.

Ben-Hur also develops feelings for the family slave Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) although their different station in life compels him not to pursue her. But when her father Simonides (Haluk Bilginer) seeks to marry her off to a Roman, Judah declares his love for her and takes her as his wife.

Toby Kebbell as Ben-Hur’s adoptive Roman brother Messala

Three years later, Messala returns as a decorated Roman Officer but his return coincides with a rising insurrection by the Zealots, who are opposed to Roman rule. Judah treats and shelters a young Zealot youth named Dismas (Moisés Arias).

Messala reunites with Ben-Hur and attempts to convince his adoptive brother to serve as an informant. Following a reunion dinner with Ben-Hur and his family, Messala informs them that a new Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk) will be taking residence in Jerusalem and that no incidents must occur.

Days later, Pilate marches into Jerusalem with Ben-Hur and his family watching from a balcony. The Zealot Dismas attempts to assassinate Pilate with a bow but fails.

Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus Christ in Ben-Hur

In retaliation, the Romans storm Ben-Hur’s household and arrest him and his family. Rather than betray a fellow Jew, Ben-Hur takes responsibility for the assassination attempt and is sentenced to be a galley slave aboard a Roman boat.

Ben-Hur’s mother and sister were sentenced to be crucified, all of which causes Ben-Hur and Messala to have a falling out. While being led to the galley, Ben-Hur encounters Jesus (Rodrigo Santoro), who fetches him some water.

Ben-Hur as a galley slave

Ben-Hur endures 5 years of slavery as a rower aboard a Roman galley under the command of Quintus Arius (James Cosmo). During a naval battle against Greek rebels, Ben-Hur’s galley is destroyed and he manages to cling to a floating mast.

Ben-Hur washes ashore and is found by Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman), who recognizes him as an escaped slave. Ben-Hur manages to convince Ilderim not to hand him over to the Romans by treating one of the Nubian‘s racing horses.

Ben-Hur with Sheik Ilderim (Morgan Freeman)

After Ben-Hur develops a bond with the 4 racing horses, a grateful Ilderim then trains Ben-Hur to be a chariot racer. Ben-Hur and Sheik Ilderim later travel to Jerusalem to take part in a grand chariot race at the newly built Roman circus.

Governor Pontius Pilate (Pilou Asbæk) at the Circus for a race.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ preaching ministry draws the attention of Governor Pilate and Messala, who is now the commander of the Roman garrison and a champion chariot racer. While visiting Jerusalem, Ben-Hur encounters Esther, who has become a follower of Jesus and is involved in charity work.

Esther tells Ben-Hur that his mother and sister are dead. Despite their reunion, the pair are kept emotionally apart due to her new cause which is contrary to Judah’s insistence on seeking revenge against Messala.

Ben-Hur leading in the big race versus Messala.

There is, of course, a huge race that brings everything all together. In the end, the message of love and peace over all that Jesus has preached rings true.

In 2013, MGM acquired Keith R. Clarke’s script, an adaptation of Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel, which was in the public domain. In April 2014, Paramount Pictures and MGM announced that they would co-produce a new version of Ben-Hur, based on the novel, with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey serving as producer and executive producer, respectively.

John Ridley was hired to revise the script, with the new film differing from the 1959 version because of the foundational relationships of Ben-Hur and Messala growing up as best friends. Since the film was to be set in Jerusalem before the Roman Empire, Christ would have a more prominent role.

Director Timur Bekmambetov

In September 2013, Timur Bekmambetov reluctantly accepted the Director position since its predecessor had so much impact. Bekmambetov was fascinated by the 1959 film but found the focus on revenge rather than forgiveness to be the main problem, so he was intrigued by the new interpretation of the novel.

He went on that the film is not just the story of Ben-Hur, but rather the shared story of him and his brother, Messala. Bekmambetov was aware of the comparisons being made with the earlier classical adapted films, and hence felt the need to make a film that was more grounded and tangible than the 1959 version.

Ridley re-wrote the script based on an original screenplay by Keith Clarke, which itself was based on Lew Wallace’s 1880 novel. Ridley admired how Clarke went back to the source material and focused his attention on the subjects of racial slavery and colonization, and the deep relationships between the friends.

Location shooting in the Sassi di Matera (Stone City) area of Italy.

Principal photography began 2 February 2015 and finished in June 2015, like the original film, and, like the 1959 version, filming took place mostly in Italy (specifically in Rome and Matera). The Sassi di Matera in Basilicata and the Cinecittà studios in Rome were also chosen among the film’s settings.

Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett chose Matera as a location for Jerusalem, one of the same locations where Mel Gibson‘s biblical movie The Passion of the Christ was filmed. Exterior shooting lasted for 2 months.

In most instances, CGI were used extensively. Bekmambetov, however, wanted to rely more on practical effects and tried to do as little CGI as possible in moments where it was not heavily needed.

Canyon in the Coachella Valley served as one of the filming locations for Ben-Hur.

In March 2016, production staff sent a request to the Bureau of Land Management’s South Coast office in Palm Springs, which oversees federal land in the Coachella Valley area, asking if the team could shoot a horse scene in the Painted Canyon with 2 horses, several cameras, and a film crew of about 30. With the help of local lawmakers, they were able to convince the BLM to approve the request, but this time with a much-scaled down production of 8 crew members, no horses, and the use of a drone rather than handheld cameras.

The trailer was released a week after Paramount released 10 Cloverfield Lane in theaters. Although Paramount did not secure a Super Bowl commercial spot for the film, Scott Mendelson of Forbes felt that it was an appropriate film to advertise before Sony Pictures‘ faith-based Miracles from Heaven opened on March 16.

Theatrical release poster

The trailer garnered a polarized reception from critics and audiences, with comparisons being made to 300: Rise of an Empire, Gladiator, and Spartacus: Blood and Sand. In its first week, the trailer was viewed over 8.2 million times across YouTube and Facebook, making it the 4th most viewed trailer of that week.

The Hollywood Reporter placed Ben-Hur among the biggest summer box office risks of 2016, while Forbes deemed it “the summer’s most predictable miss/catastrophe”. Critics pointed out that a lack of star power, its August release date, competition, negative reviews (both from critics and audiences), and a lack of marketing, were potential causes for the film’s underperformance.

Ben-Hur premiered 9 August 2016 in Mexico City and was released theatrically by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 19 August 2016 in the United States in 2D, 3DRealD 3DDigital 3D, and IMAX 3D.

Cast at the Mexico City premiere

The film received generally negative reviews by the professionals. With a $100 million production budget plus a large amount spent on marketing and distribution, the film was considered a box office bomb grossing $94.1 million worldwide.

Due to its underperformance at the box office, executives at rival studios believe the film lost around $100–120 million theatrically. Sources close to the film, however, believe the ultimate losses were likely $60–75 million, noting the film could do well on DVD and other home entertainment platforms.

Crucifixtion of Christ as seen in Ben-Hur.

According to Variety, the film was unable to expand beyond its core Christian audience. It performed well in areas of the US that are more religious, but did not do as well in more secular regions of the country.

As a result of its debacle opening, Ben-Hur joined various other films set in ancient times to underperform at the box office, especially recent big-budget movies from major studios – Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), The Legend of Hercules (2014), and Gods of Egypt (2016).

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 25% based on 160 reviews; the average rating is 4.6/10. The site’s consensus reads:

How do you fight an idea? By filming a remake that has too few of its own, and tries to cover it up with choppy editing and CGI.

Stephen Holden of the New York Times wrote:

Overseen by a director not known for his human touch and lacking a name star, except for Mr. Freeman, Ben-Hur feels like a film made on the cheap, although it looks costly.

Richard Roeper gave the film 2 stars out of 4, writing:

Ben-Hur struggles to find an identity and never really gets there. The well-intentioned efforts to achieve moving, faith-based awakenings are undercut by the casually violent, PG-13 action sequences.

On the other hand, Sister Rose Pacette wrote one of few positive reviews of the film for the National Catholic Reporter. Her only objection was for the anachronistic costumes worn by Jewish women in the film.

For our part, we felt Ben-Hur to be entertaining. So it wasn’t a word-for-word visual representation of Wallace’s novel, nor was it busting with stars.

The 2016 Ben-Hur filled a void. It will probably inspire others to view the 1959 version as a comparison, and just may get some people interested in Ancient Rome.

As for its religious connotation, I was more of a film that happened to have a character named Jesus in it than be a film based upon Jesus. People nowadays need to relax about religion as a whole.

Remember what offends you, may not offend someone else. So instead of possibly ruining another person’s positive experience, please commiserate to yourself.

Thanks for stopping by and joining us on today’s journey. Be sure to check back again with us soon for you never know where or when we’ll be traveling.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Cieply, Michael. “Paramount Promises Respectful Portrayal of Jesus in ‘Ben-Hur'”The New York Times. 25 June 2015.

D’Alessandro, Anthony. “‘Ben-Hur’s Weekend Apocalypse: Is There Redemption For Faith-Based Epics At The B.O.?”Deadline.com.

Debruge, Peter. “Is ‘Ben-Hur’ a Dark Horse in the Chariot Race for Global Audiences?”Variety. 10 August 2016.

Fleming Jr, Mike. “Sweet Chariot! MGM is Rebooting ‘Ben-Hur'”Deadline.com. 14 January 2013.

Ford, Rebecca. “‘Ben-Hur’ Director on How His Remake Differs From Charlton Heston’s Film and How He Found His Judah”The Hollywood Reporter.

Funaro, Vincent. “‘Passion of the Christ’ Film Location Helped Bring ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake to Life”Christian Post. 15 October 2015.

Giroux, Jack. “Don’t Expect to See Any Slo-Mo Chariot Races in the ‘Ben-Hur’ Remake”. 29 March 2016.

Harrod, Horatia. “Jesus meets the Fast & Furious: remaking Ben-Hur for 2016”The Daily Telegraph.

Kirchgaessner, Stephanie. “Ben-Hur remake filming banned from Rome’s Circus Maximus”The Guardian. 9 March 2015.

Mendelson, Scott. “Box Office: ‘Ben-Hur’ Bombed (In America) Because No One Wanted To See It”. Forbes.

Nussbaum, Daniel. “‘Ben-Hur’ Producer Mark Burnett: Faith-Based Films Need ‘Epic’ Feel to Attract Secular Audiences”Breitbart News. 7 August 2016.

Pena, Xochitl. “Palm Springs area plays backdrop for new ‘Ben-Hur’ film”The Desert Sun. 12 August 2016.

Siegel, Tatiana. “Why Religious Movies Are Luring Mainstream Stars”The Hollywood Reporter.

Truitt, Brian. “Sneak peek: Jack Huston takes reins of new ‘Ben-Hur'”USA TODAY. 14 March 2016.

Truitt, Brian. “Everybody got down and dirty for epic ‘Ben-Hur’ race”USA Today.

“‘Ben-Hur’ remake set for 2016 release”USA Today. 25 April 2014.

“Ben-Hur: Italy’s Matera the film location of choice”. theaustralian.com.au. 27 November 2015.

“Pope Francis blesses actor playing Jesus in ‘Ben-Hur’ film”Christian Today. 18 April 2015.

Official website

Ben-Hur at the Internet Movie Database

Ben-Hur at Rotten Tomatoes

HBO’s Rome: Still the Best Series on Televsion

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Back when we were just getting started around here we briefly shared with you a TV series we thought to be extraordinary. Looking back on that article now, we don’t think we did the show justice at all.

Now that we’ve matured (maybe) on this site we thought we should take another look at the show. Upon reviewing other articles we’ve put out on movies and TV shows, we let everyone down for this masterpiece.

So today let’s take a journey back over 2,000 years as we experience the world of HBO’s Rome!

title_Rome_Blu-ray

Rome is a BritishAmericanItalian historical drama television series created by John Milius, William J. MacDonald, and Bruno Heller. The show’s 2 seasons were broadcast on HBO, BBC Two, and RaiDue between 2005 and 2007.

Set in the 1st Century BC, Rome showcases Ancient Rome‘s transition from Republic to Empire. The series features an extensive cast of characters, with real historical characters such as Gaius Julius Caesar, Gaius Octavius, Brutus, Mark Anthony,  and Cleopatra.

Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo (Left) and Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus (Right), seen in the episode “Pharsalus”.

The lead protagonists are ultimately a pair of soldiers named Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, who find their lives intertwined with key historical events. Not surprisingly, Rome was a ratings success for HBO and the BBC.

The series received much media attention from the start, and was honored with numerous awards and nominations in its 2-series run. The series was filmed in various locations, but most notably in the Cinecittà studios in Italy.

Not having the luxury of a pre-written novel, the creators of Rome had to pull moments of history and find a way to make a visual story. The show’s creators ended up having to make dialogue from ideas not something already made.

The series primarily chronicles the lives and deeds of the rich, powerful, and historically significant. This just makes sense since more has been recorded throughout history about these people.

First page of De Bello Gallico, from a 1469 manuscript.

However the series also focuses on the lives, fortunes, families, and acquaintances of 2 common men: Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. Vorenus and Pullo are fictionalized versions of a pair of Roman soldiers mentioned in Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico.

Lucius Vorenus would be characterized as a staunch, traditional Roman Army  Centurio who struggles to balance his personal beliefs, his duty to his superiors, and the needs of his family and friends. The basis for this character is the historical Roman soldier of the same name, who is briefly mentioned in Caesar’s De Bello Gallico (5.44).

Titus Pullo is a friendly, upbeat, devil-may-care soldier under the command of Vorenus with the morals of a pirate, the appetites of a hedonist, and a total lack of personal responsibility. Over the course of the series Pullo discovers hidden ideals and integrity within himself.

Ciarán Hinds as Julius Caesar (Left) and Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus (Right) in the Roman Senate on the Ides of March.

The fictional Vorenus and Pullo manage to witness and often influence many of the historical events presented in the series. Although some license is taken, the end product is a situation we have read about in our history books.

Here is a list of the main actors and the characters they played in the series:

Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus (Season 1 and 2); Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo (Season 1 and 2); Ciarán Hinds as Julius Caesar (Season 1); Kenneth Cranham as Pompey Magnus (Season 1); Polly Walker as Atia of the Julii (Season 1 and 2); James Purefoy as Mark Antony (Season 1 and 2); Tobias Menzies as Marcus Junius Brutus (Season 1 and 2); Lindsay Duncan as Servilia of the Junii (Season 1 and 2); Lyndsey Marshal as Cleopatra (Season 1 and 2); Indira Varma as Niobe (Season 1); Max Pirkis (Season 1 and early 2) and Simon Woods (Season 2) as Gaius Octavian; Nicholas Woodeson as Posca (Season 1 and 2); Kerry Condon as Octavia of the Julii (Season 1 and 2); Rick Warden as Quintus Pompey (Season 1 and 2); Karl Johnson as Porcius Cato (Season 1); David Bamber as Marcus Tullius Cicero (Season 1 and 2); and Lee Boardman as Timon (Season 1 and 2).

Triumph of Julius Caesar as portrayed by Ciaran Hinds.

Season 1 primarily depicts Julius Caesar’s Civil War of 49 BC against the traditionalist conservative faction in the Roman Senate (the Optimates), his rise to dictatorship over Rome, and his fall. The time spans from the end of his Gallic Wars (52 BC or 701 ab urbe condita) until his assassination on 15 March 44 BC (the infamous Ides of March).

Against the backdrop of these cataclysmic events, we also see the early years of the young Octavian. It is this young man we see transition from boy to manhood as he becomes Augustus, the original Emperor of Rome.

James Purefoy as Mark Antony with Lyndsey Marshal as Cleopatra.

Season 2 chronicles the power struggle between Octavian and Mark Antony following Caesar’s assassination. The time here spans the period from Caesar’s death in 44 BC to the suicide of Antony and Cleopatra in 30 BC after their defeat at the Battle of Actium.

William J. MacDonald and John Milius pitched the idea to HBO as a mini series, but the network made it a full-fledged series. In 2002, HBO and the BBC agreed to co-produce the series, committing a budget of $100–110 million (US) to the production of twelve 1-hour episodes, with HBO contributing $85 million, and the BBC contributing $15 million.

Rome is the largest co-produced series with the American film market in the BBC’s history. The series also marked the primary series on which HBO and the BBC worked together as co-producers, although the 2 companies had worked together in other roles in earlier series, including Band of Brothers and The Gathering Storm.

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Filmed between March 2004 and May 2005, Rome was in co-production with Rai Fiction in the Italian countryside on Cinecittà studios’ 6 sound stages in Rome. A collection of massive sets in Cinecittà studios’ back lots comprised an elaborate “period reconstruction” of sections of Ancient Rome.

It was a huge undertaking, with an international crew of 350, and more than 50 local Italian interns. The production is regarded as one of the most expensive in the history of television.

Set of Rome in Cinecittà Studios (Rome).

Funding was generously employed to recreate an impressively detailed set featuring a number of Roman Villas, the Forum Romanum, and a vast slum area of the ancient city of Rome. A significant part of this set was later destroyed by a fire that burned down a portion of the Cinecittà Studios in 2007.

According to HBO, the fire started after they had finished filming Season 2. A portion of the set was also used in late 2007 by the crew of the long-running BBC sci-fi drama series Doctor Who, for the Season 4 episode “The Fires of Pompeii“.

Extras at the Forum set of HBO’s Rome.

Audio commentary on the Season 1 DVD indicates that many of the background performers used in the series were also their true professional counterparts. One example is that the actor shown in the series working as a butcher on the streets of Rome was in fact a real-life butcher.

Capping a successful Season 1, Rome won 4 Emmy Awards out of 8 nominations in 2006, for the episodes Caesarion, Triumph, Kalends of February and Stealing from Saturn. The series also won an Art Directors Guild (ADG) in the category “Excellence in Production Design – Single-Camera Television Series” for the pilot episode The Stolen Eagle.

Michael Apted won the Directors Guild of America (DGA) in the category “Outstanding Directing – Drama Series, Night” for The Stolen Eagle as well. The series itself was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the category “Best Television Series – Drama“, and Polly Walker who portrayed Atia of the Julii was nominated in the category “Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series – Drama“.

Set of HBO’s Rome

The series was also nominated for 3 Satellite Awards, 2 for Season 1 and the last for Season 2. The pilot episode The Stolen Eagle won a Visual Effects Society (VES) award in the category “Outstanding Visual Effects – Broadcast Series”.

Writers Guild of America (WGA) nominated the series for the category “Best Writing – New Television Series” in 2005. The series was also nominated for 4 British Academy Television Awards (BAFTA), 3 in Season 1 (2006) and 1 in Season 2 (2008).

In 2005, the series was nominated for a Cinema Audio Society Award (CAS) in the category “Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for Television Series” for the episode The Spoils. The British award ceremony nominated the series for the Royal Television Society (RTS) award in the category “Best Visual Effects – Digital Effects”.

For Season 2 (2007) Alik Sakharov, A.S.C. won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series, for the episode Passover.

Simon Woods as Octavian (Left) and Allen Leech as Marcus Agrippa (Right).

Even with so much success & acclaim in July 2006 HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht announced that Season 2 of Rome would be its last, citing the fact that the series (called “notoriously expensive” by Broadcasting & Cable) had been developed under a 2-year contract with the BBC that would have been difficult for the BBC to extend due to the series’ cost. Of the storyline, co-creator Heller said:

I discovered halfway through writing the second season the show was going to end. The second was going to end with the death of Brutus. Third and fourth season would be set in Egypt. Fifth was going to be the rise of the Messiah in Israel. But because we got the heads-up that the second season would be it, I telescoped the third and fourth season into the second one, which accounts for the blazing speed we go through history near the end. There’s certainly more than enough history to go around.

In a February 2008 interview with Movieweb.com, actor Ray Stevenson stated that a Rome film was in development, with Heller working on a script. Heller confirmed in December that there was “talk of doing a movie version”, adding that “It’s moving along. It’s not there until it is there. I would love to round that show off”.

In an April 2009 interview with the Associated Press, Actor Kevin McKidd stated the Rome film was “in development”, and Lucius Vorenus will likely be a part of it.

One of the many battle scenes fought in HBO’s Rome.

In March 2010, Entertainment Weekly stated that Heller had completed the script for Morning Light Productions, the film’s financiers, and was now awaiting a director and a studio, since HBO Films would not be involved. However, in a more recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Heller indicated the project had stalled.

On 15 April 2014, ScreenRant received reports from Entertainment Weekly in which it was confirmed that a movie based on HBO’s Rome was indeed on the way.

As reported in 2009 Bruno Heller, who wrote and executive produced the series, is writing the movie script as well; the film will be produced by Morning Light Productions. The only question that remains is which epoch of Rome will the movie focus on and which cast members will be featured on the big screen?

Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus) himself spoke in September 2013 about it.

There is a script that is being shopped and it’s supposedly very good, I haven’t seen it, but I am definitely going to be a part of the movie… He is very much alive, so that should be a fun story to tell.

There are episodes located on youtube.com, but for the full experience I would suggest getting the Rome: The Complete Series on DVD or Blu-ray at the HBO Store. I did and I’ve never been happier when watching a TV show.

Rome is not only HBO’s greatest series it is quite possibly the best TV series produced. It only lasted 2 season but this period show set up other shows like Vikings and Game of Thrones to thrive.

Take a look for yourself now and see what you think.

If you are searching for 100% historical accuracy, then you will be disappointed. A documentary might be more your style which is great because we enjoy them too.

However, if you want to be visually entertained with a show that provides superb “authenticity” then Rome is the show for you. Please note that this series, even though it has kids in it, is not appropriate for those under the age of 18.

Hopefully you have been enticed enough to give Rome a look. If you do decide to watch, or have seen Rome before, please share with us your thoughts on any aspect of the show.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Becker, Anne. “HBO To Sack Rome After Season 2′”. Broadcasting Cable.com, 12 July 2006.

Bruni, Frank. “Rendering Unto Caesar’s Subjects; For a New HBO Series, a Colorful Ancient City Springs to Life in Rome”The New York Times, 5 April 2004.

Gaius Julius Caesar. Commentarii De Bello Gallico, liber V.

Carter, Bill. “HBO Takes the ABC Sunday Challenge”The New York Times, 17 November 2005.

Deans, Jason. “Rome’s bloody climax wins 3m”The Guardian, 5 January 2006.

Franklin, Garth. “Rome Second Season Underway”Dark Zone, 20 April 2006.

Gold, Matea. “HBO’s Rome wasn’t built in a day”Los Angeles Times, 24 August 2005.

Hibbard, James. “Rome might not be history, series creator says”. Reuters, 1 December 2008.

Lyman, Eric J. “Fire hits Rome studios”The Hollywood Reporter, 11 August 2007.

Parsons, Ryan. “HBO Wants More ROME”. Canmag.com. 13 September 2005.

Vivarelli, Nick. “Irritated Italos give HBO’s Rome the thumbs down”Variety, 16 March 2006.

Walsh, John. “New $100m TV epic set to rewrite history”The Independent, 25 July 2005.

“Epic Roman drama unveiled”. BBC. 27 October 2003.

“BBC backs its explicit Rome epic”. BBC. 17 October 2005.

“Fire torches film sets at Rome’s historic Cinecitta”. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 10 August 2007.

“HBO: Rome: About the Show”. HBO.com. 2006.

Associated Press (13 April 2009). Does the Road for Rome Lead to Film? (Flash Video). YouTube.

Rome: The Complete First Season. DVD, 2005.

Rome: The Complete First Season. “When In Rome featurette”. DVD, 2005.

Official website on BBC.co.uk

Official website on RAI.it

Rome at TV.com

The Twelve Tasks of Asterix

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Recently we ventured from Rome across the Alps and into Gallia, where we discovered Roman Gaul: Paving the Way for Modern Europe. We then took an animated journey with Asterix the Gaul!

Today we continue to follow the exploits of Asterix the Gaul as we watch The Twelve Tasks of Asterix!

After a group of Legionaries is once again beaten up by the Gauls, they imagine: “With such huge strength, they can’t be human… they must be gods“.

ulius Caesar is informed, and laughs. He makes a decision with his council and goes to Armorica, to speak with Vitalstatistix. He gives the Gauls a series of 12 tasks, inspired by Hercules (but new ones, since the 12 Labours are outdated).

Vitalstatistix assembles their best warriors, Asterix and Obelix, to do the job. The Roman Caius Tiddlus is sent along with them to guide them and check they complete each task.

If you do not care to watch the film, yet are still interested to know what the Twelve Tasks are then click here.

We hope you enjoyed today’s animated journey and look forward to having you back soon. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Asterix the Gaul

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Recently we ventured from Rome across the Alps and into Gallia. Here we discovered Roman Gaul: Paving the Way for Modern Europe.

Staying on that theme, today we present to you a cartoon film from 1967 entitled Asterix the Gaul!

In the year 50 BC Gaul is occupied by the Romans – nearly. But the small village, Armorica, of Asterix and his friends still resists the Roman Legions.

With the aid of their druid’s magic potion, which gives superhuman strength, these Gauls duke it out with the Romans. Learning of this potion, a Roman Centurion kidnaps the druid to get the secret formula out of him.

We hope you enjoyed today’s throwback adventure. If you haven’t yet done so be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Cleopatra: A Film of Epic Proportions

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

We love movies and television shows as much as the next person, but we drop everything whenever we come across something regarding Ancient Rome. For better or worse, we are going to watch it all so we have a reference for future reviews.

Today we are jetting back to 1963 to see the epic historical drama film, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor!cleopatra-blu-ray-featured

This American made film chronicles the struggles of Cleopatra VII, the young Queen of Egypt, to resist the imperial ambitions of Rome. It was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and co-stars Richard BurtonRex HarrisonRoddy McDowall, and Martin Landau.Versus Image

After the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, where Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) has defeated Pompey the Great in a brutal civil war for control of the Roman Republic, Pompey flees to Egypt, hoping to enlist the support of the young Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII (Richard O’Sullivan) and his sister Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor). Caesar follows Pompey to Egypt, under the pretext of being named the executor of the will of their father, Ptolemy XII.

Much to his dismay, Caesar is given Pompey’s head as a gift. The highly manipulated pharaoh was convinced by his chief eunuch Pothinus (Gregoire Aslan) that this act would endear him to Caesar, but it did exactly the opposite.

As Caesar stays in one of the palaces, a slave named Apollodorus (Cesare Danova) brings him a gift. When the suspicious Caesar unrolls the rug, he finds Cleopatra herself concealed within.

The older Roman is intrigued with the young Egyptian’s beauty and warm personality, and Cleopatra convinces Caesar to restore her throne from her younger brother. Soon after, the young pharaoh has surrounded the palace with Caesar and his soldiers vastly outnumbered.Caesar & Cleopatra

Counterattacking, Caesar orders the Egyptian fleet burned so he can gain control of the harbor. The fire quickly spreads from the harbor to the city, thus destroying the famous Library of Alexandria.

Cleopatra angrily confronts Caesar, but he refuses to pull troops away from the fight with Ptolemy’s forces to quell the fire. In the middle of their spat, Caesar forcefully kisses her.

The Romans hold, and the armies of Mithridates arrive on EgyptianCaesar soil, causing Ptolemy’s offensive to collapse. The following day, Caesar is in effective control of the kingdom and Cleopatra is crowned Queen of Egypt.

For arranging an assassination attempt on Cleopatra, Caesar banishes Ptolemy to the eastern desert. This is essentially a death sentence for Ptolemy since he and his outnumbered army would face certain death against Mithridates in the desert.

Cleopatra begins to develop megalomaniacal dreams of ruling the world with Caesar, who in turn desires to become King of Rome. They marry, and when their son Caesarion is born, Caesar accepts him publicly, which becomes the talk of Rome and the Senate.elizabeth-taylor-as-cleopatra-in-cleopatra

After he is made Dictator for Life, Caesar sends for Cleopatra. She arrives in Rome in a lavish procession and wins the adulation of the Roman people.

The Senate grows increasingly discontented amid rumors that Caesar wishes to be made king. On the Ides of March in 44 BC, a select group of Senators assassinate Caesar and split up the Empire.

Lepidus receives Africa, Octavian gets Spain and Gaul, while Mark Antony (Richard Burton) will take control of the eastern provinces. However, the rivalry between Octavian and Antony is becoming apparent.

OctavianCleopatra is angered after Caesar’s will recognizes his adopted son Octavian (Roddy McDowall) instead of Caesarion as his official heir, and angrily returns to Egypt.

While planning a campaign against Parthia in the east, Antony realizes he needs money and supplies, and cannot get enough from anywhere but Egypt. After refusing several times to leave Egypt, Cleopatra gives in and meets him in Tarsus.

Antony becomes drunk during a lavish feast, while Cleopatra sneaks away. The war is decided at the naval Battle of Actium on 2 September 31 BC where Octavian’s fleet, under the command of Agrippa, defeats the Antony-Egyptian fleet.Actium

Cleopatra assumes he is dead and orders the Egyptian forces home. Antony follows, leaving his fleet leaderless and soon defeated.

Several months later, Cleopatra manages to convince Antony to retake command of his troops and fight Octavian’s advancing forces. However, Antony’s soldiers have lost faith in him and abandon him during the night.

Rufio (Martin Landau), the last man loyal to Antony, kills himself because of the odds turning in favor of Octavian. Antony tries to goad Octavian into single combat, but is finally forced to flee into the city.

Octavian and his army march into Alexandria with Caesarion’s dead body in a wagon. Octavian has taken Caesarion’s ring, which his mother gave him earlier as a parting gift when she sent him to safety.

AnthonyWhen Antony returns to the palace, Apollodorus, not believing that Antony is worthy of his queen, convinces him that she is dead, whereupon Antony falls on his own sword. Apollodorus then confesses that he misled Antony and assists him to the tomb where Cleopatra and 2 servants have taken refuge.

Octavian seizes the palace and discovers the dead body of Apollodorus, who had poisoned himself. Octavian receives word that Antony is dead and Cleopatra is holed up in a tomb.

After some verbal sparring Octavian promises Cleopatra that her life will be spared, her possessions returned, and she will be allowed to rule Egypt as a Roman province in return for her agreeing to accompany him to Rome. Cleopatra then observes Caesarion’s ring on Octavian’s hand and knows her son is dead.

Believing that Octavian’s word is without value, Cleopatra agrees to Octavian’s terms sworn on the life of her dead son. After Octavian departs, she orders her servants in coded language to assist with her suicide.

She sends her servant Charmion to give Octavian a letter. In the letter she asks to be buried with Antony.

Octavian realizes that Cleopatra is going to kill herself and bursts into her chamber with his guards. Alas they are too late finding an ornately dressed Cleopatra already dead, along with her servant Eiras, while an asp crawls along the floor.Death

Charmion is found kneeling next to the altar on which Cleopatra is lying, and is confronted by Agrippa. She replies and then falls dead as Agrippa watches.

Cleopatra achieved notoriety during its production for its massive cost overruns and production troubles. Some troubles included changes in Director and cast, a change of filming locale (abandoning shoot in London to start again in Rome), sets that had to be constructed twice, lack of a firm shooting script, and personal scandal around its co-stars.

Cleopatra_posterOriginally budgeted at $2 million, the film ended up costing $31 million. It was the most expensive film ever made up to that point and almost bankrupted 20th Century-Fox.

It received mixed reviews from critics, although critics and audiences alike generally praised Taylor and Burton’s performances. It was the highest grossing film of 1963, earning $26 million US ($57.7 million total; equivalent to $445.98 million in 2016), yet made a loss due to its production and marketing costs of $44 million (equivalent to $340.09 million in 2016).

This fact makes Cleopatra the only film ever to be the highest grossing film of the year yet to run at a loss. Cleopatra  won 4 Academy Awards, and was nominated for 5 more, including Best Picture (which it lost to Tom Jones).

Elizabeth_Taylor_Cleopatra_1963Elizabeth Taylor was awarded a record-setting contract of $1 million. This amount eventually swelled to $7 million because of the delays of the production (equivalent to $54,100,000 in 2015).

Taylor became very ill during the early filming and was rushed to hospital, where a tracheotomy had to be performed to save her life. The resulting scar can be seen in some shots.

All of this resulted in the film being shut down. The production was moved to Rome after 6 months as the English weather proved detrimental to her recovery, as well as being responsible for the constant deterioration of the costly sets and exotic plants required for the production.

During filming, Taylor met Richard Burton and the pair began anAnthony & Cleopatra adulterous affair , which made headlines worldwide since both were married to others. Moral outrage over the scandal brought bad publicity to an already troubled production.

The original cut of the film screened for the studio was 6 hours long, but was cut to 4 hours for its initial premiere. The film was cut once more to just barely over 3 hours, to allow theaters to increase the number of showings per day and hopefully turn a profit.

As a result certain details are left out of the film, such as Rufio’s death and the recurring theme of Cleopatra’s interaction with the gods of Egypt. An unsuccessful attempt was made to convince the studio to split the film into 2 separate films, Caesar and Cleopatra followed by Antony and Cleopatra, in order to preserve the original cut.Lovers

The studio wanted to capitalize on the publicity of the intense press coverage the Taylor-Burton romance was generating, and felt that pushing Antony and Cleopatra to a later release date was too risky. The film has been released to home video formats in its 248-minute premiere version, and efforts are still under way to locate the missing footage (some of which has been recovered).

The music of Cleopatra was scored by Alex North. It was released several times, first as an original album, and later versions were extended. The most popular of these was the Deluxe Edition or 2001 Varèse Sarabande album.

The film earned Elizabeth Taylor a Guinness World Record title, “Most Costume Changes in a Film” (65). This record was finally broken in 1996 in the film Evita by Madonna with 85 costume changes.Elizabeth-Taylor-001

Critics remain divided about the film. A New York Times review called it “one of the great epic films of our day,” while Judith Crist dubbed it “a monumental mouse.”

American film critic Emanuel Levy said, “Much maligned for various reasons, […] Cleopatra may be the most expensive movie ever made, but certainly not the worst, just a verbose, muddled affair that is not even entertaining as a star vehicle for Taylor and Burton.”

Cleopatra 2Even Elizabeth Taylor found it wanting. She had said, “They had cut out the heart, the essence, the motivations, the very core, and tacked on all those battle scenes. It should have been about three large people, but it lacked reality and passion. I found it vulgar.”

Positive reactions came from such publications as American entertainment-trade magazine Variety, who wrote, “Cleopatra is not only a supercolossal eye-filler (the unprecedented budget shows in the physical opulence throughout), but it is also a remarkably literate cinematic recreation of an historic epoch.”

The film was shown as part of the Cannes Classics section of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, to commemorate its 50th Anniversary. The film was later released as a 50th Anniversary version available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Unfortunately Fox had long ago destroyed all of the trims and outs from negatives to save costs years before, preventing the release of traditional outtakes. The home media packages did include commentary tracks and two short films “The Cleopatra Papers” and a 1963 film about the elaborate sets “The Fourth Star of Cleopatra”.

Overall, the film is fairly accurate to what was known of the story back in 1963. After watching the 243-minute version on Netflix, we would say the film is a production worth seeing at least once (maybe with an intermission or 2).Set

We thank you for stopping by today and hope you will give the feature film about these captivating real-life characters a chance. Check us out again soon to see what we have in store for you.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Atkinson, Nathalie. “Queen of the Nile: Inside 20th Century Fox’s restoration of Cleopatra”National Post, 21 May 2013.

Burns, Kevin; Zacky, Brent. “Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood.” American Movie Classics. 3 April 2001. Television.

Chrissochoidis, Ilias (ed.). The Cleopatra Files: Selected Documents from the Spyros P. Skouras Archive. Stanford, 2013.

Hall, Sheldon; Neale, Stephen. Epics, spectacles, and blockbusters: a Hollywood history. Wayne State University Press, 2010.

Null, Christopher. “Cleopatra (1963) Review”Contactmusic.com.

Patterson, John. “Cleopatra, the film that killed off big-budget epics”The Guardian, 15 July 2013.

Rice, E. Lacey. “Cleopatra (1963)”Turner Classic Movies.

Rosser, Michael; Wiseman, Andreas. “Cannes Classics 2013 line-up unveiled”Screen Daily, 29 April 2013.

“CLEOPATRA (PG)”British Board of Film Classification. 1963-05-30.

“Catalog of Feature Films: Cleopatra”American Film Institute.

“Cleopatra (1963)”Box Office Mojo.

“Cleopatra (1963)”The New York Times.

Cleopatra from Johnny Web

“Cleopatra”. Rotten Tomatoes.

“1963: Movies as Art”Columbia Journalism School.

“The 36th Academy Awards (1964) Nominees and Winners”oscars.org.

King Arthur: Rule Your Destiny

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Anyone that knows the history of modern Britain knows that the formation of cities such as London,  York, and Newcastle Upon Tyne first began in Roman Britannia as Londinium, Deva Victrix, and Pons Aelius respectively. Due to this wonderful start we take a bit of leverage in exploring anything in Great Britain, or at least within the boundaries of Hadrian’s Wall (Vallum Aelium).

When we came across a movie on Netflix last week interest was piqued not just because of the actors, but because of the new take on a famous story. The story was of the legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Get ready for your head to spin as today we review the 2004 action/adventure film directed by Antoine Fuqua and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, King Arthur!king-arthur-movie

Written by David Franzoni (writer of the original draft script for Gladiator), the film is atypical in reinterpreting Arthur (Clive Owen) as a Roman Cavalry Officer rather than a Medieval Knight. The other stars filling out this historical love-triangle are Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot and Keira Knightley as Guinevere.

Despite these departures from the source material, the Welsh Mabinogion, the producers of the film attempted to market it as a more historically accurate version of the Arthurian Legends. This was supposedly inspired by new archaeological findings.

ArtoriusArthur, a Roman also known as Artorius Castus, is shown as the son of a Roman father and a Celtic mother. He commands a unit of Sarmatian Auxiliary Cavalry in Britannia at the close of the Roman occupation in AD 467.

Arthur is loyal to Rome and a devout Catholic, but follows the teachings of Pelagianism, which many consider heretical. He and his men guard Hadrian’s Wall against the Woads, a group of native Britons who are rebels against Roman rule, led by the mysterious Merlin (Stephen Dillane).

As the film begins, Artorius and his remaining Knights Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Bors (Ray Winstone), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen),Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy) and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) expect to be discharged from their service to the Empire after faithfully fulfilling a 15-year commitment. (Maybe since they served in the farthest provincia of the Empire they weren’t bound to the typical 25-year contract of the Late Roman Army.)Knights

As fate would have it on the night when they are to receive their freedom, Bishop Germanus (Ivano Marescotti) sends them on a final mission to rescue an important Roman family. Marius Honorius (Ken Stott) faces impending capture by the invading Saxons, led by their king Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård) and his son Cynric (Til Schweiger).Saxons

According to Germanus, Marius’ son Alecto is the Pope‘s favorite godson and may be “destined to be Pope one day”. Artorius and his Knights final mission shapes up to also be their last since these Romans live north in the land beyond the protection of Hadrian’s Wall, now the limit of Rome’s power in Britannia.

At the remote estate, Arthur discovers that Marius has immured pagans, including a Woad named Guinevere and a small boy named Lucan. Arthur frees them and decides to take everyone, along with Marius’ family, back to Hadrian’s Wall.

One night, Guinevere takes Arthur to meet with Merlin, the leader of the Woads and her father. At first, Arthur thinks Guinevere has betrayed him for when he was a boy his mother died in a Woad attack, but Merlin has come in peace.

Pulling ExcaliburArthur’s famous sword, Excalibur, had belonged to his father and marked his burial mound. Arthur had pulled it from the mound in an effort to rescue his mother from a burning building.

Merlin suggests an alliance between the Woads and the Sarmatian Knights against the invading Saxons.

Marius then betrays the group and takes Lucan hostage and attempts to kill Dagonet but is shot by Guinevere with an arrow. As the group heads south, Tristan returns from scouting the area telling Arthur that the Saxons are close behind them.Caravan

The Knights stay behind to hold up the Saxons and allow the refugees to escape. They soon encounter the Saxons at an ice-covered lake bordered on each side by steep cliffs.

Greatly outnumbered, Arthur, Guinevere and the Knights attempt to repel the Saxons with arrows. The battle is won when Dagonet runs to the middle of the ice and breaks it with an axe at the cost of his life.Ice Break

Arthur and his men, along with the Woads, assemble to fight the climactic “Battle of Badon Hill” set just south of Hadrian’s Wall. When the smoke clears, the Saxons have been defeated.Battle

While he realizes that his ideal Rome exists only in his dreams, Artorius despairs over the deaths of his men. The film ends with the marriage of Arthur and Guinevere, after which Merlin proclaims him to be their king.Wedding

United by their defeat of the Saxons and the retreat of the Romans, Arthur promises to lead the Britons against future invaders. Three horses that had belonged to Tristan, Dagonet and Lancelot run free across the landscape, as the closing narrative describes how fallen knights live on in tales passed from generation to generation.

The historical consultant for the film was John Matthews, an author known for his books on esoteric Celtic spirituality, some of which he co-wrote with his wife Caitlin Matthews. The research consultant was Linda A. Malcor, co-author of From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reinterpretation of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, in which possible non-Celtic sources for the Arthurian legends are explored.

The film was shot in EnglandIreland and Wales. King Arthur’s main set, a replica of a section of Hadrian’s Wall, was the largest film set ever built in Ireland, and was located in a field in County Kildare.Hadrian's Wall

The replica was 0.62 miles long, which took a crew of 300 building workers over 4 months to construct. The fort in the film was based on the Roman fort named Vindolanda, which was built around AD 80 just south of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now called Chesterholm in Northern England.

The film’s storyline is not taken from the traditional sources, but is a work of creative fiction wit the notable exception of the Saxons as Arthur’s adversaries and the Battle of Badon Hill. Most traditional elements of Arthurian legend are dropped, such as the Holy Grail and Tristan‘s lover Iseult.

The film barely includes the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere; whilst Guinevere and Arthur are romantically involved, only a few sequences depict a possible relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere.

The Knights’ characterizations in Arthurian Legend are also dropped. For example, the film’s portrayal of a boorish and lusty Bors, the father of many children, differs greatly from his namesake whose purity and celibacy allowed him to witness the Holy Grail according to legend.

The cinematic portrayal of Guinevere as a Celtic warrior who joins Arthur’s knights in battle is a drastic alteration from the demure “damsel in distress” of courtly romance. Although there is historical and mythological precedent for “sword-swinging warrior queens”, such as the British Boudica of the IceniGwenllian ferch Gruffydd of Wales, or the various Celtic war goddesses, the film’s portrayal of Guinevere is actually closer to the Queen Medb of the Irish Táin Bó Cúailnge.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Historia Regum Britanniae, which contains one of the oldest accounts of the legend, Guinevere is the one with Roman blood while Arthur is an indigenous Celt. The composite Merlin, however, was created by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Merlin was not originally part of the legends, and it is generally agreed that he is based on 2 figures: Myrddin Wyllt (Myrddin the Wild), and Aurelius Ambrosius, a highly fictionalized version of the historical war leader Ambrosius Aurelianus. The former had nothing to do with Arthur and flourished after the Arthurian period.

In the film, King Arthur and his Knights rose from a hero who lived in a period often called the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages actually occurred in Sub-Roman Britain after the last Emperor of the Western Roman EmpireRomulus Augustus, was deposed by Odoacer in AD 476, so the timing is just a bit off since the film is said to take place in AD 467.

2If the film held true to historical accuracy, as it proclaimed very specifically, we believe the film would have fared better than it did. Making sure the Sarmatian Knights, Roman Soldiers, or Saxons were in period appropriate battle armor and using the proper weaponry would cease the naysayers.

Knowing that the film was trying not to have all previously used Arthurian Legend themes probably upset traditionalists from the get go. Not showing the secret relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere, or the father-son relationship of Lancelot and Galahad, would put off those Arthurian purists.

Overall, the film was entertaining as one would imagine any action/adventure film would be. King Arthur, however, did not get favorable reviews from most “professionals” (no shock there).

Rotten Tomatoes had a 32% rating for the film, with others not faring much better. A. O. Scott of the New York Times further remarked that the film was “a blunt, glowering B picture, shot in murky fog and battlefield smoke, full of silly-sounding pomposity and swollen music (courtesy of the prolifically bombastic Hans Zimmer). Luckily there is an element of broad, brawny camp that prevents King Arthur from being a complete drag.”Round Table

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, however, had a more positive response to the film and awarded it 3 out of 4 stars, writing, “That the movie works is because of the considerable production qualities and the charisma of the actors, who bring more interest to the characters than they deserve. There is a kind of direct, unadorned conviction to the acting of Clive Owen and the others; raised on Shakespeare, trained for swordfights, with an idea of Arthurian legend in their heads since childhood, they don’t seem out of time and place like the cast of Troy. They get on with it.”

Robin Rowland criticized critics who disliked the film for its Dark Age setting. Rowland pointed out that several Arthurian novels are set in the Dark Ages, like Rosemary Sutcliff‘s Sword at Sunset and Mary Stewart‘s Merlin trilogy (The Crystal CaveThe Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment).

Amongst the reviews was also a claim of plagiarism by Italian historian and novelist Valerio Massimo Manfredi. He claimed King Arthur was simply a copy of his 2002 novel The Last Legion, due to several similarities between the pair of stories.

king arthur movieThese similarities include the reuse of some tropes and happenings present in the book and, especially, the attempt to give historical reliability to the main characters with the concept of King Arthur having Roman origins. According to Manfredi, King Arthur‘s release and its commercial failure were among the main causes of the problems related to the movie adaptation of his novel until its release in 2007 (you can see our review of The Last Legion film here).

Actually, the events of the movie King Arthur suggest a theory that is largely different from the one on which Manfredi’s novel is based. Some differences include Artorius Castus not even being mentioned by Manfredi, nor is the Sarmatian Auxiliary Army.

If you enjoy action & adventure, beautiful scenery, epic battles, or just a new twist on a legendary tale, then King Arthur is for you. We gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Netflix for the aforementioned reasons.

Sword in the StoneWas King Arthur an Oscar-winning film like the 1963 film Cleopatra, have the visual scope of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, or the story of Frank Miller’s 300? No, but it also never claimed to do anything other entertain and allow its audience to escape reality for 126 minutes.

We hope that you enjoyed today’s adventure, and even hope that maybe you’ll give this film a chance. We look forward to bringing you more reviews and stories of Rome real soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Ebert, Roger“King Arthur review”Chicago Sun-Times, 7 July 2004.

Higham, N. J. King Arthur, Myth-Making and History. London: Routledge, 2002.

Littleton, C. Scott; A.C. Thomas. “The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends.” Journal of American Folklore 91, 1978.

Riederer, ChrisKing Arthur – Key historical facts.

Rowland, Robin. “Warrior queens and blind critics.” CBC News, 2004.

Ryan, Dermot. “Hollywood heavyweights fly in for a reel taste of Shakespeare”. Evening Herald, 2008-07-01.

Schultz, Cathy. “KING ARTHUR: Romans and Saxons and Picts, oh my!” History in the Movies, 2004.

Scott, A. O. “The Once and Future Fury: Knights Go for the Jugular”.The New York Times, 7 July 2004.

Wadge, Richard. “A British or Sarmatian Tradition”. Folklore, Vol. 98, No. 2, 1987.

Youngs, Ian. “King Arthur film history defended.” BBC News Online, 2004.

“Introduction to the movie “The Last Legion” hosted by Valerio Massimo Manfredi and Lorenzo Baccesi”.

Colosseum – A Gladiator’s Story

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Thank you to all returning members. If this is your first time here, we hope it won’t be your last.

Here at RAE we are huge fans of anything that inspires others to travel and learn about history. The Amphitheatrum Flavium, better known as the Colosseum, is one of those items.

Aside from being the largest amphiteatre ever built, the Colosseum was the first athletic stadium. Holding between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests, mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology.

Now it’s your turn to see the Colosseum.

Are you not entertained? We hope you were. We also hope that you will visit Rome, if you haven’t already, and you will understand why we cannot get enough of it.

Thanks for stopping by. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!