08 November 2007

I'm Brian, and so's my wife

It seems that The Golden Age, the sequel to Elizabeth, currently doing the rounds, isn't a patch on its predecessor - and if Rotten Tomatoes is any judge it's getting it in the critical neck from all sides. Frankly, I'm not surprised.

The original film's strength was in its intensity, its psychology, its sheer humanity; the sequel, at least to judge by the trailers - which would be unfair, were it not for the fact that everything I've read about the film supports this - looks epic and expansive. Seriously, look at those shots of the navy, of the Armada, and of Clive Owen swaggering heroically. I'm all for sequels being in different genres than the original films, but I think some effort to be true to the original should be made. This looks as though it's trying to be The Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean rather than Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth first came out, many a critic sensibly compared it to The Godfather, and a smart sequel would have run with that: calling it The Golden Age while concentrating on the darkness of the era could have made this something special. I can't help but think that had this been made in the true spirit of the original, the entire war with the Spaniards would have been conveyed merely through planning at the palace, and then, perhaps, Walsingham passing on to his queen reports of the English triumph.

Ah well.

Its historical inaccuracy has come in for criticism as well, but at this point I'm rather inclined to shrug and ask whether you'd expect otherwise. How many recent 'historical' films or films with any 'historical' content can you really think of that aren't historically inaccurate? You don't need to bring up 300 and U-571 to make this point. The original Elizabeth was hardly a paragon of accuracy, after all, and over the last few years I twitch to think of Alexander, The Patriot, Michael Collins, Saving Private Ryan, or the Da Vinci Code, let alone Braveheart, a film that owes at least as much to Spartacus as it does to history.

Spartacus, for my money, is the best of all the sword and sandal films by a country Roman mile, although, I'm afraid, that my favourite scene in it - other than the main battle scene and the unforgettable 'I'm Spartacus' sequence - is the restored 'snails and oysters' dialogue, for all the wrong reasons. Frankly, it's hilarious.

You know the scene? No? Well, there's a bit in the film where a scantily clad Laurence Olivier, playing the Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus, is in a bathhouse with his new slave - indeed, his 'body servant' - Antonius, played by the equally scantily clad Tony Curtis. It was cut from the film back in the sixties, as the powers that be were far from comfortable with its decidedly homoerotic overtones, but was restored in the eighties; by the time it was restored the soundtrack had been lost and needed to be rerecorded, and unfortunately by this point Laurence Olivier had departed this world. Anthony Hopkins was roped in to impersonate the dead thespian, rasping away in that voice we nowadays can't help but associate with our favourite anthropophagite:
Crassus: Do you eat oysters?
Antonius: When I have them, master.
Crassus: Do you eat snails?
Antonius: No, master.
Crassus: Do you consider the eating of oysters to be moral and the eating of snails to be immoral?
Antonius: No, master.
Crassus: Of course not. It is all a matter of taste, isn't it?
Antonius: Yes, master.
Crassus: And taste is not the same as appetite, and therefore not a question of morals.
Antonius: It could be argued so, master.
Crassus: My robe, Antoninus. My taste includes both snails and oysters.
All of which reminds me: I used to know an extraordinarily pretty redhead who had two goldfish, which she called 'Spartacus' and 'No, I'm Spartacus'. True story.

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