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Best Films About the Roman Empire


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Initial post: Nov 16, 2012 6:58:42 AM PST
A Customer says:
What are the best films that showcase the history of Imperial Rome and what it was like to live as a citizen, a soldier or a slave in that place and time. Please recommend the best war films, dramas or documentaries. Thanks!

Posted on Nov 16, 2012 7:31:13 AM PST
In a way difficult--there are legions of them, of course, but really good ones that enter into the mind of the period? There is the further problem that some of the most interesting aspects of Roman history--both republican and imperial--have never been treated on the screen to the best of my knowledge. (Full disclosure: I come at this question with the mind of a fairly serious student of history.)

I would refer you first to what appears to be a good treatment of the subject--The Ancient World in the Cinema: Revised and Expanded Edition.
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Second--I would skip right over three films that would be at the top of everyone's ljst--Ben-Hur, Spartacus, and Gladiator--because they are pretty dubious as history of any sort. Not that they are not entertaining films, particularly Ben-Hur--they are just not good history. One film in particular comes to mind as better than most--The Fall Of The Roman Empire (Two-Disc Deluxe Edition) (The Miriam Collection). Cleopatra has its faults, but at its best--in the first half in particular--it's an intelligent recreation of the period. Probably the most historically faithful thing I can think of off the top of my head is the TV version of I, Claudius. One has to take it with a grain of salt--it is based on a pair of novels by Robert Graves, who in turn based his material of good ancient sources, primarily Suetonius. Suetonius, however, had a bit of a Roman Kitty Kelly in him--he reveled in gossip. Nevertheless, one of the best.

Frankly, if you want to get some Roman history without plowing directly into the serious scholarship, or even the more accessible writers like Michael Grant, you could far worse that getting Graves' I, Claudius: From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius (Penguin Modern Classics) and Claudius the God and His Wife Messalina: The Troublesome Reign of Tiberius Claudius Caesar, Emperor of the Romans (Born 10 BC, Died AD 54), as Describ (Modern Classics (Penguin))--two classics of historical fiction, and superior fun. I also have a very high regard for the series of novels on the crisis of the Roman Republic done by Colleen McCullough collectively called Masters of Rome and beginning with The First Man in Rome. Among other things, they are extremely well researched and full of the details of daily life. Allan Massie has also written a number of superior fictions with a Roman background.

Hope this helps.

Posted on Nov 16, 2012 8:47:29 AM PST
vivazappa says:
I like Caligula...

Posted on Nov 16, 2012 10:41:33 AM PST
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Posted on Nov 17, 2012 12:12:50 AM PST
The finest cinematic history of the Roman Empire can be found in Richard Lester's film, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." The historically accurate film, sporting a cast of hundreds while crammed full of subtlety and nuance, rivals the finest sex-and-sand epics of all time. Remember, movies are your best entertainment.

Posted on Nov 17, 2012 7:47:24 AM PST
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Posted on Nov 18, 2012 6:35:10 AM PST
Balok says:
I realize that it's not a *film*, but you could do a lot worse than the 1976 miniseries I, Claudius. As history, it's largely bogus (from small matters like the anachronistic use of forks to larger matters like its being extremely unclear that Livia was nearly as evil as she's presented), and as was typical for BBC productions of the time, it was very clearly done on a budget, but it's got a large cast of top-notch actors. And it's one of the few dramas that are IMHO better than the novel that it was based on. Jack Pulman, who did the adaptation, was aware that the second novel, dealing with Claudius's reign, isn't nearly as interesting as the first one, so instead of dividing the drama 50/50, he devoted 9 episodes to _I, Claudius_ and only 4 to _Claudius the God_. And most of the memorable speeches in the miniseries (including Claudius's accession speech) were written by Pulman, not Graves.

Posted on Nov 18, 2012 8:03:24 AM PST
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Posted on Nov 19, 2012 4:39:08 PM PST
MJEH says:
There's only one definitive answer:

"History of the World - Part I" (1981)

Posted on Nov 19, 2012 6:42:42 PM PST
Christian says:
You should check out Rome if you haven't already Rome: The Complete Series [Blu-ray]

Posted on Nov 20, 2012 6:19:08 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2012 9:54:45 AM PST
A Customer says:
Which books? (There are so many of varied value.)

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2012 11:25:05 AM PST
C. J. Vasta says:
Well Colleen McColluugh's First Man in Rome series has been mentioned. It Chronicles The last Generation of the Roman Republic before Caesar and Pompey paved the way for the empire. I've only read theGrass Crown but overall it seems to be a stong, historical accurate portrayal of an overlooked time. It touches many of same issues as HBO's Rome but in a much more tasteful less explotative style.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2012 2:08:28 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2012 2:08:41 AM PST
M. Gaudet says:
That one with Alec Guinness cannot remember the name.

Posted on Nov 22, 2012 6:43:16 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2012 6:44:42 AM PST
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Posted on Nov 22, 2012 11:07:00 AM PST
A Customer says:
Thanks, William. Can you or anyone else recommend some introductory histories (something along the lines of Christopher Duggan, but focused exclusively on the Roman era)?

Posted on Nov 22, 2012 1:19:43 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2012 1:23:31 PM PST
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Posted on Nov 24, 2012 10:08:02 AM PST
A Customer says:
Thanks, William, for the suggestions and the links! They are very helpful!

Posted on Mar 11, 2013 10:29:03 AM PDT
Steelers fan says:
The History Channel series "Rome", narrated by Joe Mantegna, was good. The film with Peter O'Toole as Augustus was good, as I remember.

Posted on Mar 11, 2013 10:49:49 AM PDT
D. Larson says:
That TV series, "Spartacus: Blood and Bare Boobies" is meticulous about historical accuracy, painstakingly researched, and completely reliable as a source of information about the Roman Empire. And, some of it had Lucy Lawless!

And speaking of Lucy Lawless, "Xena Warrior Princess" ran into Julius Caesar a time or two. So, another good historical source.

Posted on Mar 11, 2013 11:02:09 AM PDT
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In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013 2:12:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 11, 2013 2:17:16 PM PDT
joaniepony® says:
A Customer,
I read the book first~~~Then saw the Film~~The film actors were miscast. I thought Jack Palance fit the discription of
Spartacus. Janet Leigh and Tony curtis shouldn't have been cast at all. Don't remember the Author of the book. Spartacus So many films are ruined by casting STARS in the key rolls, no matter their acting ability. I say stick to TV's History Channel !!!

Posted on Mar 11, 2013 3:57:17 PM PDT
Steelers fan says:
Howard Fast wrote the novel.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 11, 2013 5:34:35 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 11, 2013 7:27:14 PM PDT
joaniepony® says:
Steelers fan,

This is a historical Novel ,Exodus, I found very educational as well as an entertaining read.

Jeff Chandler was described to a T, although Paul Newman did a great job, but he was too young for the lead part Exodus

Stick to The History Channel, when the reading eyes start to fail!!
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Discussion in:  Movie forum
Participants:  20
Total posts:  48
Initial post:  Nov 16, 2012
Latest post:  Mar 15, 2013

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