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Tom Holland’s Ancient World

Posted March 10, 2011 to photo album "Tom Holland’s Ancient World"

As a primer for The Eagle, an award-winning historian gives us list of top ten ancient films.

Tom Holland’s Ancient Films
Ben Hur
The Robe
Carry on Cleo
The Return of the King


Hollywood, despite its reputation for riding roughshod over details of history, has always rather fetishised authenticity when it comes to recreating the look of the ancient world. Zak Snyder, director of this notoriously triumphalist staging of the battle of Thermopylae, goes to the opposite extreme. With their cloaks, their helmets and their tight black pants, the Spartans have more than a hint of Batman about them – and show us war, in consequence, as something almost camply glamorous. Militarism is cast as a thing both glorious and beautiful––which is precisely what makes 300 the most convincing portrait of an ancient people’s cast of mind ever filmed. Most directors have sought to soften the serrated edges of antiquity, by introducing Christians, or visionary slaves, or liberals avant la letter––but Snyder, by refusing to indulge his audience’s presumptions, attains a brutal and unsettling degree of authenticity.