Spartacus

Spartacus

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Forget Gladiator - this is the real thing, shot with glorious style only the great Stanley Kubrick could deliver. Perhaps the ultimate Roman epic, it's the story of one man captured and sold into slavery who rises to lead an army of slaves toward freedom. Inspired by his love for the beautiful slave girl Varinia (Jean Simmons), Spartacus will not back down - but unknown to him, even his bold rebellion is manipulated by calculating Romans eager to use him as a pawn in their own power games.

On a brick wall near an old abandoned cinema in Glasgow, the legend "I'm Spartacus" remained scrawled for many years. This is an iconic film which had a massive influence on popular culture - an influence still felt today. Anybody who has ever felt downtrodden by the system, unfairly dismissed or exploited will rally to Spartacus' call.

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But this film, whilst packed with passion and fury, is not naive. Kirk Douglas' charismatic hero is ably matched by Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton as scheming politicians playing for ostensibly much bigger stakes, and Peter Ustinov also proves a worthy adversary as the gladiatorial trainer Bataitus, Spartacus' owner. The effect is rather like that of watching the gods toy with human destinies in Jason And The Argonauts - until Spartacus himself demonstrates unexpected qualities, and the loyalty of his followers threatens to upset everything.

From the thrilling scenes of gladiatorial combat in the arena right through to the climactic final battle, in which the slaves are hopelessly outnumbered, this film delivers on action, character and atmosphere. It may be old fashioned and some of the acting may now seem hammy, but you'll still find yourself on the edge of your seat. Kubrick was always a perfectionist when it came to technical work. The cinematography here is gorgeous and really makes the most of dramatic landscapes, but it's the sound that gives the film its immediacy and its remarkable sense of scale. Thundering horses and brave battle cries are accompanied by a truly epic score by Alex North. Combined, these qualities make one feel so close to the action that one can almost smell the dust.

Though it has become familiar television fare, this is a film that deserves to be seen on a big screen, where its full impact can be appreciated. As a restored version does the rounds this summer, make sure you don't miss the chance.

Reviewed on: 08 Jun 2009
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The epic tale of a gladiator in Ancient Rome who revolts and tries to lead a slave army to freedom.
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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Dalton Trumbo, based on the book by Howard Fast.

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Nina Foch

Year: 1960

Runtime: 197 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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