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Thursday 21 September 2017

Sex and violence rules in Spartacus

SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND (BRAVO)
THE STORY OF SCIENCE: POWER, PROOF AND PASSION (BBC1)

There's an old Hollywood adage on how to achieve surefire success with a script: "Defy authority. Destroy property. Take off clothes".

The makers of last night's Spartacus: Blood and Sand stayed true to the screenwriting doctrine, while also offering up some more modern enticements. Lipstick lesbianism: tick. CGI: tick. Gruesome decapitation. Tick.

There's a plot too. As per the old classic, Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) is a warrior from Thrace who is enslaved by the Roman commander Glaber (Craig Parker) and sent to take part in gladiatorial bouts in the town of Capua where he must fight for his eventual freedom.

The controversial programme, which debuted on Bravo last night, could be best described as the fantasy of a hormone-fuelled 14-year-old boy. Twenty-four-year-old, 34-year-old and 54-year-old men will probably find the programme pretty spectacular too, only they'll likely be less vocal about it.

Don't expect a history lesson with this version of Spartacus. Unashamed anachronisms abound, from the creatine-created abdominal muscles of the gladiators, to the breast implants of the female slaves.

Add to this the repetitive use of the f-word and quotes more suited to a US high school than Ancient Rome.

Somehow, I can't imagine Kirk Douglas uttering the words, "then my boot will find your ass in the after-life". Alas, this is Spartacus for a modern, blood thirsty and porn-desensitised age.

The team invested in a 1,000-frames-per-second camera to capture 300-esque slow motion scenes of heads flying and blood splattering, but were less inclined to pay for a dialect coach.

The accents range from Crocodile Dundee to Pride and Prejudice, via America and Scotland. Neither did the actors seem to care. As the screenwriters might say: f**k it!

Another disharmony occurs when the comparatively subdued British actor, John Hannah, appears in the final scene. It was a bit like seeing your old school teacher in a nightclub.

Mediawatch-UK called for a complete ban on the hit Starz TV series before it aired last night, arguing that the frequent scenes of sex and violence are completely gratuitous.

While I have never seen a sex scene that progresses the plot any more than it titillates its audience, the orgiastic scenes in Blood and Sand are so outrageous that they reduce the plot to the sub-text.

The clunky screenwriting seems to have been borrowed from the school of pornography too. "Lift your dress," Spartacus ordered his wife before tying a ribbon around her thigh. "Keep me close to your thighs -- the thought will warm us both."

Next week, Spartacus will arrive at the slave training camp which should give those of the other sexual persuasion plenty of homoerotic titillation. You have to hand it to the makers: they know what sells and they are delivering it in spades.

Over on BBC, The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion set out to uncover the secret of life, starting with the attempts to save the lives of gladiators in Ancient Rome before segueing into the history of anatomical drawings, the discovery of the microscope, and later the cell and the "enigmatic chromosome".

The documentary provided a fascinating, though occasionally academic, glimpse at how art often collided with science on the path to discovery.

Sadly, I imagine Blood and Sand will be dominating water cooler conversation today. Did I mention that there was an all-girl orgy...?

BYRNE'S STARS

SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND **

THE STORY OF SCIENCE: POWER, PROOF AND PASSION ***

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