The Boston Globe - 29 August 2010 - With “Centurion’’ slashing its way into select cinemas nationwide, now is as good a time as any to revisit some movies and TV shows set in ancient Rome and examine the recently energized, post-“Gladiator’’ wave.
SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND (Starz, 2010)
A Post-it-sized pitch (“Spartacus done like ‘300’ ’’) sold this cheerfully over-the-top, fictionalized reimagining of the Spartacus legend. As the rebel hero (a soldier turned gladiator in this version), Welsh-born Andy Whitfield has a Clint Eastwood squint, a slow-burning fuse, and a bad bargain with his hated owner, Batiatus (John Hannah). When he isn’t swearing a blue streak, Batiatus promises Spartacus a chance to be reunited with his wife, who also has been enslaved. The producers — including Sam Raimi — break new ground by focusing on how the anxious, striving middle class (Batiatus and his adoring, scheming wife, played by Lucy Lawless) lose sleep over debts, social status, and fertility issues, yet are thoughtlessly cruel to their slaves. And those slaves aren’t the faceless, nameless background players of previous epics; they’re the resentful, beaten-down, terrorized majority who finally realize that “the dream that was Rome’’ doesn’t include them. (Season 1 will be available on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 21. A six-part prequel is expected to air in January.)