Sir Terry Pratchett's fabulous, rich series of comic fantasies, the Discworld is world and mirror of worlds. As such, it frequently mirrors the Classical world, and I get to blog about it! The Discworld books got me back on to proper stories after years of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters' Club in my early teens, and I am forever grateful to Pratchett for that, and to my Dad's recommendation and my old school's Library Class that between them led to me finding the Discworld in the first place.
Steven Saylor's detective series set in Rome started out with one lovely distinguishing feature; the mysteries fictional 'detective' Gordianus investigated were real criminal cases, usually taken from Cicero's speeches. Saylor would offer an alternative solution to that presented by history, Gordianus delving into the secrets imagined to lie beneath the case. As the series has gone on, Saylor has invented more and more of the central mysteries himself, but the focus on historical events, now largely political and military events, remains.
Just when you thought TV couldn't get any gorier or include any more ridiculous sex scenes than those in Spartacus: Blood and Sand, along comes True Blood to prove you wrong. Based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels, also known as the Southern Vampire Mysteries, by Charlaine Harris, both books and TV series include occasional bits of ancient culture thrown in amongst the evocatively drawn modern Southern setting.
It took me quite a while to get into this series, as my posts on the TV series demonstrate, but Season 3 got me utterly hooked and after that I raced through the books as if they were chocolate cake. They're silly, sexy, gory fun, and as the cherry on the cake, every now and then we get to meet a Roman vampire.
The West Wing is a quite ridiculously brilliant drama from Aaron Sorkin. Sure, it was idealistic, sometimes corny, always a bit too sure of itself and there was a definite dip in quality after Sorkin's departure at the end of Season 4, but overall it remains one of the best television dramas ever made.
It was years before I agreed to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because the title just sounded so ridiculous. More fool me, since the title is, of course, a knowing joke and the series is one of the funniest, slickest, most touching genre shows of the last couple of decades. Just about every telefantasy show and a good proporation of science fiction shows since owe something to Buffy, the newly invigorated Doctor Who among them.
Plebs is an ITV sitcom set in a slightly surreal, modernised version of ancient Rome in the
significant year 27 BC, following the misadventures of Stylax, Marcus and their slave Grumio, and Marcus's attempts to woo their neighbour Cynthia without her slave Metella getting in the way.
Britain's answer to Star Trek (except it predates it and the Borg are clearly redesigned Cybermen), Doctor Who ran short serials made up of 2-6 episodes (mostly) from 1963-1989, then came back with a bang in 45-minute single story form (more or less) in 2005. In between, the BBC joined with several American companies to produce a TV movie starring Paul McGann. Many fans of Classic Who, New Who or both despise this one-off adventure - I love it. Paul McGann is far and away my favourite Doctor, probably because he's the first one I saw, having grown up in the otherwise Who-less 1990s.
The show has changed a lot over the course of nearly fifty years, and although it doesn't always deliver, the good episodes are very, very good. The Doctor's ship, the TARDIS, travels throughout time and space so every now and again, to my delight, the Doctor visits the Classical world and I get to blog about it. In recent years, he has also acquired an archaeologist friend who's basically a female Indiana Jones, so I blog about her too.
This page is for the big ancient world films. You know the ones I mean - those films that you automatically think of when you hear 'ancient Rome' or 'ancient Greece'. The classics. And the not-so-classics. Lots of Roman history, lots of Greek mythology, but more rarely vice versa, for reasons known only to filmmakers. All (well, a representative sample anyway) dissected, nit-picked and reviewed here. If you can't see the one you're looking for, feel free to suggest it in the comments! I can't promise instant reviews, as I have a finite DVD collection, limited time and no money, but I'll do my best.
I love Star Trek, in all its forms (well, except Enterprise, which I just kind of like but don't tend to watch). I've proudly self-identified as a Trekkie (not Trekker - if you know the difference, you're a Trekkie by default) for years and have even been to a convention and everything.
My absolute favourite Star Trek series is Voyager. I will not be moved on this and I will politely ignore any attempts to persuade me that Voyager is anything other than fabulous! Even 'Threshold', which I believe has beaten 'Spock's Brain' to the title of Worst Episode of Star Trek Ever, is absolutely hilarious as long as you don't take it seriously. This is generally the key to enjoying Voyager and, indeed, all Star Trek - don't take it seriously. Except when it's being serious.
I also love the Original/Classic/Whatever series and especially the films, which made me fall in love with Star Trek in the first place. The Next Generation was fondly watched when I was younger and although I don't always remember it too well, I love it. I haven't seen so much Deep Space Nine, but it gave us the fantastic anniversary episode 'Trials and Tribbleations', for which we must be eternally grateful.
Me at the Star Trek: Voyager convention, dressed up for the Holodeck-themed party on the left (I nicked the lei from Hawaiian Night at work, where we had to waitress in them, and just threw on some summer clothes!) and wearing a tiny comm badge on the right, so small it's invisible to the naked eye. This was eleven years ago; I'm neither so fresh-faced, nor quite so blonde any more. Robbie McNeil made my year by putting kisses on the signed photo I got of me and him, for which I will love him forever.
I don't think I really need to introduce Harry Potter, do I?! I've reviewed all the films individually, and done a couple of block posts on some of the books, since the amount of Classical stuff in them varies a bit.
Movies in order of preference:
1. Goblet of Fire
2. Deathly Hallows Pt 1
3. Half-Blood Prince
4. Deathly Hallows Pt 2
5. Order of the Phoenix
6. Prisoner of Azkaban
7. Philosopher's Stone
8. Chamber of Secrets
Books in order of preference:
1. Prisoner of Azkaban
2. Order of the Phoenix
3. Chamber of Secrets
4. Deathly Hallows
5. Philosopher's Stone
6. Half-Blood Prince
7. Goblet of Fire
Late and not at all lamented series about 'archaeologists' from the BBC. I've put the word 'archaeologists' in inverted commas, because I think Indiana Jones might actually be closer to real archaeology than this lot. At least he gives a lecture occasionally.
A series of children's detective novels (middle grade) by Caroline Lawrence, set during the short reign of the Emperor Titus. Flavia Gemina and her friends Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus solve various mysteries including theft, kidnapping and murder, while navigating growing up in a culture where the girls expect to be married by the age of fifteen.
The books successfully walk a fine line between remaining suitable for the target age group, while staying faithful to the harsh realities of Roman life. Most of the earlier books stand alone to some extent, but the later stories are best read in order.
There is a spin-off series, The Roman Mystery Scrolls, for younger readers (aimed at children of around 8 years old) which takes place after the action of the main series, but which can be read first without spoiling too much, and without needing any prior knowledge of the middle grade series.
Several of the books have been adapted for television by the BBC, in a production that looks absolutely gorgeous and boasts Simon Callow as Pliny the Younger - you didn't get this sort of thing on CBBC when I was watching it! (although Maid Marian and her Merry Men was the most awesome show ever all the same).
Lindsey Davis' Falco series is lighter than Steven Saylor's Gordianus in terms of both length and tone (earlier books are perhaps less light in tone than the later ones, but all are filled with a gloriously cynical strand of humour). Set during the reign of Vespasian, Falco works partly as a private informer and occasionally for the emperor, trying to save up enough money to move one more rung up the class ladder and marry his senatorial class girlfriend, Helena Justina. Davis takes us all over the Roman world, with regular checks in back at home in Rome, and we follow the trials and tribulations of Falco's lively extended family alongside his continuing attempts to make some money and stay alive.
Davis' historical novel about Vespasian's mistress, The Course of Honour, is also excellent and works well as a sort of semi-connected prequel to the Falco series.
Classic 1970s drama serial from the BBC, an adaptation of Robert Graves' novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God. It has all the usual drawbacks of a 1970s BBC series - all interior filming on limited sets, and the cast, although excellent, do tend to project as if to the back of the audience when standing in a room talking to one other person - but it's absolutely fantastic and a must-see.
Over Christmas and New Year 2010-2011, the BBC broadcast a new radio adaptation of the novels. It suffered a little from having to squeeze two novels into six episodes but included some nice scenes from the books that had been cut from the television version, and the cast is once again extraordinary, led by Tim McInnerny as Tiberius and best of all, Derek Jacobi as Augustus (confusing as this is for fans of the TV show!)
Classic mid-90s telefantasy show starring the ever-awesome Lucy Lawless as the Warrior Princess. I never watched this show at the time, so I'm catching up on it now. It's full of that wonderful innocence all those 90s adventure shows had, and is reminding me of happy hours spent watching Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman as a teenager.
Landmark drama series produced jointly by the BBC and HBO - at least, I think it was landmark, I have no idea who decides these things. But it was certainly a predecessor to The Tudors and, in a different way, to Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I used to emphasise how much sex and violence there was in it, until I saw the aforementioned Blood and Sand, and now Rome seems a bit tame by comparison. Put it next to I, Claudius and it looks a bit more extreme.
The story follows two main strands; yer' actual history, from Caesar's rise through to the deaths of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and the lives and misadventures of two soldiers from Caesar's Thirteenth Legion. These two have names taken from Caesar's Gallic Wars, but everything else about them is fictional. I call them Boring Soldier (later, The Godfather) and Dodgey Soldier, the names OldHousemate(theRomeone) and I gave them when we first watched the series back in 2005.
Spartacus: Blood and Sand is an historical drama made by the US channel Starz. Do not be fooled by the phrase 'historical drama' - there are no bonnets here! The main aim of Spartacus, as far as anyone can tell, is to throw as much fake blood and boobies at the screen as possible (leading to its common name among fans, Spartacus: Blood and Tits). The violence is the graphic novel/cartoon style of blood-heavy ultraviolence used in 300, so although it's not for the squeamish, it's so excessive and so self-consiously artistic that a former wimp like me can take it quite well.
In amongst all this gore and goop are genuinely fascinating, likeable or hateable, human characters and moving, if gross, stories. The show can be surprisngly historically accurate in unexpected ways (only Spartacus would show us the realistic workings of a Roman toilet) and the overall plot is loosely based on some actual history, so there's always a kernal of truth among the mayhem, however small. The brainchild of Buffy writer Steven DeKnight, it's full of deliberate humour as well as the more dubious pleasure of wondering what on earth made anyone think of that. Watch with friends and maybe some alcohol.
Sadly, the lead role of Spartacus had to be re-cast for Season 2 following the return of late star Andy Whitfield's cancer. While waiting for a verdict on Whitfield's health, the producers came up with the prequel series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, which has all the qualities of its parent show, though it can take its characters misfortunes a little more seriously in places. The best thing about it is we get to see more of Lucy Lawless' Lucretia and John Hannah's Batiatus, the series' most colourful and entertaining characters.
My childhood heros were CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. I wanted to be them when I grew up. I am aware that this is perhaps a little unusual!
I fell in love with The Chronicles of Narnia from the moment I saw Lucy pull aside fur coats to reveal snow-covered fir trees in the 1988 BBC TV series and my love for these books goes beyond obsession and into something else. I once won a prize at school for a poem which heavily featured the line 'Once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen' (I can't remember the rest of it now - goodness knows where it is...).
Although I'm religious, I was actually really annoyed when I asked Mum what Aslan's name was in our world and she told me. As far as I was concerned, Jesus was a person and Aslan was a lion and Narnia was a series of exciting stories that should have nothing to do with church. As an adult, I have both a greater appreciation of the various spiritual themes in the books, and an ongoing frustration with the more in-your-face bits of evangelism, that seem to spoil the books for so many non-religious readers when they get old enough to understand them.
I'm also a fan of Lewis' other work, especially The Screwtape Letters, and one of these days I will get around to reading the Out of the Silent Planet trilogy.
Since Tolkien was unkind enough hardly ever to use Classics in his work, I'll throw any posts that manage to squeeze him in onto this page as well!
Stargate was an early film from Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, the team that brought you Independence Day and Godzilla. It starred Kurt Russell and James Spader as a retired Air Force Colonel and an Egyptologist, respectively, who go through a mysterious 'gate' discovered near Giza and discover an alien planet that bears a remarkable resemblence to ancient Egypt (complete with weird alien pseudo-camels, which it shouldn't really have because the Romans brought camels to Egypt...).
The concept was later expanded and developed to become a hit TV series, Stargate: SG-1, which starred MacGuyver, ran for ten years, and produced two spin-offs, Stargate: Atlantis and Stargate: Universe (all of which have now been cancelled). I've only really watched SG-1 so far, but I'm sure my brother will get me to watch some more Atlantis and Universe soon, he's been trying for long enough!
Classic BBC sitcom about the last human being alive, his dead bunkmate and their companions (an evolved cat, a computer of debateable intelligence and a downtrodden android). Series 1-6 are completely brilliant, Series 7 is hit and miss with more misses than hits, Series 8 contains exactly one good joke and the recent mini-series was... interesting. My first ever full post on the blog was on Red Dwarf, so I think it deserves its own page!