12 January 2011

Movie Adaptations: Rome

By Michelle Styles

From Ben Hur to the recent Spartacus, ancient Rome has captured movie makers attention. There is just something about swords, sandals and sex that means every so often the time period comes back in vogue. Each movie maker has a different take. Sometimes the surprising thing is that Roman civilisation did last as it did and the Roman empire was large as it once was given the way it is portrayed in the movies.

A number of films about Rome are great but I have to chant "a long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away..." as the opening sequence starts. This was particularly true of Gladiator. There was much to love about Gladiator--Russell Crowe's portrayal of Maximus, the music, some of the fight scenes and the fact that it meant Rome became cool... Great story but it is not good history. In fact, it is terrible history. Commodius, the emperor after Marcus Aurelius, was one of the truly unhinged emperors and may have indeed been the son of a gladiator, but he was serving as co-emperor when Marcus Aurelius died. And you never had a Roman general become a gladiator. It just didn't happen. Thus while I enjoy Gladiator, it is not my favourite representation of Rome. That honour belongs to the series "Rome".

And although I have a few problems with some of the story lines etc, they did at least try to depict "Rome" as more than simply swords, sandals and sex. Sex tends to be over-done in these types of period dramas because sex sells. The Romans by all accounts were a bit more prudish and hypocritical. The women tended to be less scantily clad. Think "The Sopranos" and their double standards and you begin to get an idea of Roman life.

The focus on the end of the Republic I think helps as it is a bit more accessible to the modern viewer. Rome was coping with the trauma of a changing society, as well as how does a Republic behave when it acquires an Empire? It is also one of the few times in Roman history that the women played a definite political role. The history is reasonable in Rome or at least broadly recognisable. But it is the little telling details that I love and how the sets give a good approximation of Rome as it was with the colourful graffiti and wood. Oh, and the male stars are easy on the eye!

Michelle Styles's latest Roman-set historical, "THE PERFECT CONCUBINE," will be available for downloading on 1 February from Harlequin Historical Undone. She has written four full-length romances set in Rome, as well as twelve set in other time periods. A QUESTION OF IMPROPRIETY is available now.