Sunday 17 December 2017

Spartacus winning the battle


TWO episodes into Spartacus: Vengeance and it's missing more than original star, the late Andy Whitfield, and John Hannah's splendid Lentulus Batiatus, who was slaughtered at the end of Spartacus: Blood and Sand.

There are fewer of those gleefully artificial CGI backgrounds that made us snigger in the very beginning, before we began to notice there might be something more going on in Spartacus than mere blood, guts and soft-core sex.

Could this be a sign that Starz, the cable network that makes Spartacus and has never had a single original series make it to a second season before now, has committed a little more money to the production? If so, then it's even more determined than before to splash the cash on splashing the blood.

If anything, Vengeance is even heavier on the gore than Blood and Sand. Within moments of the opening we'd seen Oenomaus (the excellent Peter Mensah) slicing and dicing his way through a variety of opponents in the Pit, in a truly jaw-dropping hand-to-hand gore-fest.

Limbs were snapped like celery, heads were crushed like melons and arterial sprays engulfed the frame. Yet this was simply a warm-up for Spartacus' battle with some guards, which gave new boy Liam McIntyre -- doing a solid job of filling Whitfield's sandals despite lacking his imposing physical presence -- a chance to show off a nifty move involving shoving a sword through the back of an opponent's neck and out his mouth. Gurgle!

Having won the revolt, Spartacus now faces the bigger challenge of winning the revolution, as well as keeping his evolving army unified. His new diplomacy was tested when a house slave called Tiberius, who he'd just liberated, tried to kill him. Rather than putting him to the sword, Spartacus decided to train him to fight instead.

Weakness or wiliness?

Elsewhere, Batiatus' widow Lucretia (Lucy Lawless), skewered like a kebab at the end of Blood and Sand, appears not to have lost as many marbles as previously thought and is gradually regaining her memory -- much to the worry of the treacherous Ilithyia (Viva Bianca) -- as well as acquiring a belief that she's been blessed by the gods.

If you're prepared to look beyond the choreographed carnage and equal-opportunities nudity, there are more brains on display here than the ones that fly across the screen in little pieces. Smartly plotted and full of full-bodied (in every sense) characters, it's shamelessly enjoyable.

"Well, that was an interesting if pointless exercise," remarked Maia Dunphy, wife of comedian Johnny Vegas, near the end of her Reality Bites documentary From Boom to Maternity.

Dunphy was standing amid Dublin's swirling weekend nightlife, clutching a bottle of beer and with a fake baby-bump stuffed up her pink mini-dress, having spent the evening finding out if men are attracted to pregnant women.

Dunphy is 35 and although Irish women are apparently out-breeding other Europeans, her career has meant babies have never been high on her list of priorities. So she embarked on a mission to find out what all the fuss is about, visiting maternity hospitals both public and private (she liked private better), and seeking out the opinions of doctors, midwives and various women devoted to the joys, or otherwise, of motherhood.

Determinedly breezy in tone, it started out well enough with Dunphy trading places for the night with Triona, who has a four-year-old girl, 14-month-old twin boys and a husband who works too many hours to be hands-on. "It smells like a sewage works," she moaned, liberating a twin from a stinky nappy. "It'll be deja poo all over again!"

She later popped up at a swanky Terenure baby shower thrown for pregnant Virginia Macari by a gaggle of her demi-celeb galpals. Not the reality that bites most mothers-to-be, it must be admitted. But an interesting look at motherhood for some, nonetheless.


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