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Vanessa Hessler plays the title in the 2012 Italian TV production Santa Barbara, about the 4th century saint. but viewers around the world will probably more readily recognize her costar, Simone Montedoro, from his role as a police officer in the TV show Don Matteo. Here he's Claudius, the Roman soldier loved by Barbara, who ends up as a gladiator fighting for his life. A US DVD, also released in 2012, gets rave reviews at Amazon.

Billy Zane plays the title role in the 2012 TV movie Barabbas, based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Pär Lagerkvist and directed by Roger Young (who for years has specialized in competent but unexciting Biblical and ancient world movies produced in Europe). The 1961 movie version starring Anthony Quinn is on Steven‘s Top Ten movies list.

The docudrama Au Nom D’Athènes premiered on Arte TV in France in November, 2013. Recounting the military struggle between Greece and Persia, the production was filmed in the ancient languages spoken by the protagonists, with French narration and subtitles. Director Fabrice Hourlier previously helmed Le Destin de Rome, a docudrama about the Roman civil war between Octavian and Antony, which also featured dialogue in the original Latin and Greek (see entry at the 2011 Archive Page). Official site here. A Region 2 DVD is available from France. If you have info about an English-language broadcast or DVD, please let Steven know!

Here’s a special shout-out to the BBC for making 2012 a banner year for Roman history buffs. In some respects 2012 was an “annus horribilis” for the British network (thanks to sex scandals and cover-ups), but the venerable Beeb certainly did its best to spoil viewers with one documentary series after another (see the next four entries below). Rome: A History of the Eternal City premiered December 5, 2012. Presenter Simon Sebag Montefiore began episode one with a look at how religion permeated every aspect of ancient Roman life, from the highest hilltop temple to the lowest sewer. For more info and streaming options in the UK, go here. Will there be a US broadcast or DVD release? If you have answers, please let Steven know!

December 2012 saw two more BBC documentaries of special interest to Roman History buffs. In the riveting Scotland: Rome’s Final Frontier (more info here), archaeologist Dr. Fraser Hunter (above) recounts the failure of three masssive Roman campaigns to conquer Caledonia. Several rungs down the quality scale we find the abysmal Rome’s Lost Empire (more info here), in which eye-candy presenter Dan Snow and “space archaeologist” Sarah Parcak use satellite tech to make dubious “discoveries.” (Read The Guardian’s hilarious review here.) Will there be a US broadcast or DVD release of either program? If you have answers, please let Steven know!

[Update: this series releases on DVD in the US on October 15, 2013.] In the BBC documentary series The Dark Ages: An Ages of Light, which premiered November 27, 2012, Waldemar Januszczak reassesses the artistic legacies of Late Antiquity, including the development of early Christian iconography (depicting Jesus using the imagery of Apollo and Jupiter) and the dazzling artwork of the Barbarians. For more info and streaming options in the UK, go here.

Treasures of Ancient Rome, a 3-part series, was shown on BBC in September, 2012. Scholar Alastair Sooke reassessed the old canard that the Romans were mere collectors and copiers of Greek art and concluded that the Romans made their own indelible contributions to world art, from warts-and-all portrait busts to the soaring magnificence of the Pantheon. Steven said: “Sooke has that golly-gosh it-factor the BBC loves in its presenters, the images are beautiful, and there are some truly unusal moments, like his groundbreaking interview with a present-day priest of Antinous.” See more info here. Will there be a US broadcast or DVD release? If you have answers, please let Steven know!

Steven has long admired the deep scholarship and common-sense approach of British Classicist Mary Beard, so was excited to learn of her 3-part BBC TV series Meet the Romans, which explores the ancient city and its empire “from the bottom up.” The series debuted on BBC2 on April 17, 2012; on August 13 it became available on Region 2 DVD in the UK. Will there be a US broadcast or DVD release? If you have answers, please let Steven know!

No to be entirely outdone by the BBC in the Ancient World documentary department, rival British network ITV broadcast Joanna Lumley: The Search for Noah’s Ark on December 23, 2012. It all seems a bit naff at first, with the Ab Fab star going all golly-gosh when the natives on Mount Ararat show her the reputed remains of the Ark, but then she gets down to brass tacks and delivers a straightforward look at the various historical sources of the Flood story, with an eye-popping travelogue from Istanbul to India and a stop at the British Museum to brush up on cuneiform. Lumley’s actually an old hand at Ancient World exploration, with previously televised forays to Greece and up the Nile. Will there be a US broadcass or DVD release of this show? If you have answers, please let Steven know!

Now at the Musée Gallo-Romains in Lyon, France: Peplum, a major exhibit on ancient world cinema including film screenings, lectures, and special events. The exhibit opened October 9, 2012 and runs through April 7, 2013. Visit the museum web site here.

Here’s the strangest item you’re likely to find on this page: Thermae Romae, a Japanese movie based on a graphic novel that’s said to have sold five million copies. The plot involves a Roman who finds himself transported to modern Japan; when he returns to Rome and introduces Japanese bathing customs, he attracts great acclaim—and enemies. The image above is a screencap from the movie’s official site. Watch a trailer here. (The film was actually released in 2012, but so non-Japanese visitors to this page won’t miss the notice, Steven is also posting this item on the 2013 page.) There appears to be an all-region DVD with English subtitles available.

In 2012, the Warner Archive Collection finally released some of its Sword and Sandal classics on DVD-R. No more watching badly cropped, washed-out 16-mm TV prints from those crappy DVD collections! The biggest news here is the chance to finally watch the legendary but long-elusive Steve Reeves vehicle The Slave (aka Son of Spartacus) for the first time anywhere in the world on DVD in its original widescreen aspect ratio. Other jewels from the Collection include Damon and Pythias, starring 1960s TV legends Guy Hamilton and Don Burnett; the mythical mash-up Hercules, Samson & Ulysses with Kirk Morris; and Jeffrey Hunter as a slave architect sent to run a gold-mining operation under constant Celtic threat in the high adventure flick Gold for the Caesars. For more about Sword and Sandal (aka Peplum) cinema, visit Steven’s Sword and Sandal page.

The TV series Sinbad debuted on Sky1 HD in the UK in July 2012, with a US Blu-ray release on January 15, 2013. (The series is also available in the UK on Region 2 DVD and region-free Blu-ray) Filmed in Malta, the show features an international cast with Elliot Knight in the title role. Check out a trailer and other info at the official site.

One of the most popular sci-fi comedies ever is back for a tenth season. Red Dwarf X premiered Oct. 4, 2012 on the UK digital channel Dave. (In the UK, episodes can also be downloaded from iTunes.) The third episode, “Lemons,” found Lister and the crew sent back in time to Britain, AD 23—but before we see a single Druid or Roman soldier, they head for India in search of lemons (don’t ask), where they encounter…Jesus? The complete series releases on DVD and Blu-ray in the US on January 8, 2013.

If you live just about anywhere on earth—except the United States—chances are that in October and November, 2012 a theater near was playing Astérix et Obélix: Au Service de Sa Majesté (aka Astérix and Obélix: God Save the Queen), the fourth installment in the French mega-movie franchise featuring the havoc-wreaking comic book Gauls, played by Gérard Depardieu (Obélix in all four movies) and Edouard Baer (making his debut as Astérix). This time out, the duo cross the Channel to help second-cousin Anticlimax face down Julius Caesar and the invading Romans. The lavishly-produced movies have been huge hits all over the world, but have never appeared in the US, not even on DVD. Meanwhile, the three previous Astérix movies are available on Region 2 DVD from the UK: Asterix and Obelix Take On Caesar, Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, and Asterix at the Olympic Games.

The 13-part TV series Mitos y Leyendas (Myths and Legends) debuted on rtve in Spain on October 14, 2012, retelling the stories of Achilles, Ulysses, Hercules, Aeneas, and Electra with a mix of dramatizations and scholarly commentators. The official Web page (in Spanish) is here. Will this show be available beyond Spain, or on DVD? If you have info, please let Steven know! [Update: As of 12/2012, the entire series (in Spanish) is streaming here.]

Two years after making an indelible impression playing Augustus’s wife Livia in I, Claudius, Siân Phillips played another larger-than-life woman of the ancient word — Boudicca of the Iceni in the British TV series Warrior Queen, which was broadcast in 1978. Unseen for more than thirty years, the entire Warrior Queen series was released on Region 2 DVD in the UK on August 6, 2012. (You may be able to place an order from the US, but be sure you have a way to play Region 2 DVD.)

Coriolanus actually opened December 2, 2011—but only in New York and LA (to qualify for Oscars). For most viewers, this was a 2012 movie (general US release was January 20), with a DVD release on May 29. Working from a screenplay by Gladiator scripter John Logan, Ralph Fiennes (Hades in Clash of the Titans) makes his directing debut and plays the title role in a modern-dress version of Shakespeare’s play about the Roman warrior who turned against Rome. (The story forms a major chapter in Steven’s novel Roma.) Gerard Butler plays Coriolanus’s enemy-turned-comrade, Aufidius. Tagline: “In the arms of an enemy, he will claim vengeance.” (Are the marketers hip to the story’s homoerotic subtext, much discussed by Shakespeare scholars?) Trailer here; more pix here and here.

Thanks to the success of 2010’s Clash of the Titans, Sam Worthington reprised the role of Perseus in Wrath of the Titans. (US theatrical release was March 30, 2012 The DVD came out on June 26.) Steven caught this CGI extravaganza and reports:
This movie hatches a plot surprisingly similar to last year’s dreadful Immortals, with the Greek gods in peril of destruction as plans are afoot to bring the Titans back to power. Wrath of the Titans draws a bit more inspiration from actual Greek myth than did Immortals, but it’s really just another Lord of the Rings wannabe. (The setting of a twilight world with dying gods has nothing to do with the stories or the spirit of Greek myth; the inspiration here is Tolkien, America’s perceived decline, etc.) Worthington’s Perseus is far more sympathetic than Henry Cavill’s wooden Theseus, and his stature as monster-slayer is consonant with the role of the ancient Greek heroes—think of Seneca’s Hercules, killer of monsters and savior of mankind. Visually there are some impressive action scenes and awesome set-pieces, the movie features the best Cyclops ever, and I have to admit that Bill Nighy’s comic turn as a cracked Hephaestus made me laugh. All in all, not too bad, but is this really the best that Hollywood can do with the incredible treasure of Greek mythology?

Spartacus: Vengeance, the second full season of the gripping gladiator saga, began January 27, 2012 on Starz, with Liam McIntyre replacing the late Andy Whitfield in the title role, and the surprising return of a character we thought was dead. The DVD released on September 11. The upcoming 2013 season (titled Spartacus: War of the Damned) will be the last, bringing down the curtain on the epic tale of the slave revolt against Rome. Here’s a link to the official site.

2012 saw the third and final season of the Spanish TV series Hispania la Leyenda (see the original item here)…and the beginning of a spin-off series, Imperium. One of the carry-over characters is the Roman commander Marco (played by Jesús Olmedo, giving orders in the photo above), whose career in Imperium hits a rough patch à la Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Will audiences outside Spain ever get to see these shows? If you know of any English-language broadcast or DVD release, please let Steven know!

Romanian director Octavian Repede’s 45-minute documentary about the ancient Dacians (whose civilization was obliterated by Trajan and his legions), Draco—Chipurile de paitra (Draco: The Stone Faces), released in 2012, can be seen at this official web page (in Romanan with English subtitles)..

Dante’s Hell Animated is a 40-minute film that follows the journey of Dante and his guide, Virgil, through the circles of hell, with lots of Classical allusions and famous figures of the Ancient World along the way. Eric Roberts is the voice of Dante in the English version, with Vincent Spano as Virgil. A DVD released in the US on November 24, 2012. For more info and to see a trailer or order the DVD, visit the official site. (A previous movie, Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic, based on a video game, released on DVD and at iTunes in 2010.)

Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage, directed by and starring Shahin Sean Solimon, claims to be filmed in Dynamation (Ray Harryhausen’s brand of stop-motion special effects). As of late 2012, IMDb showed a World Premiere date of December, 2012, though Steven could find no evidence of an actual release. (Does that sound dirty?) Watch the teaser trailer (narrated by Patrick Stewart) here. Update! As of late 2014, this movie is finally streaming at iTunes and Amazon, with a DVD promised for February 3, 2015. New trailer here.

But wait—there’s more!

Steven’s International Online Ancient World Film Festival
Watch this collection of mini-movies right here, right now!

Steven’s Wish List
Will we ever see these legendary
movies and TV shows?
Where Are
the Euro Movies?

Movies and TV shows from England & Europe, never shown in the US.


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