More impressive for its physical scale than its emotional pitch, Robert Dornhelm's TV remake of the 1960 epic still packs a wallop. In 72 BC, Rome was riven with civil war. To finance its expanding empire, the emperor sanctioned the round-up and enslavement of peasants. One such unfortunate was Vassinia (Rhona Mitra), a shepherdess purchased by lecherous...read more
More impressive for its physical scale than its emotional pitch, Robert Dornhelm's TV remake of the 1960 epic still packs a wallop. In 72 BC, Rome was riven with civil war. To finance its expanding empire, the emperor sanctioned the round-up and enslavement of peasants. One such unfortunate was Vassinia (Rhona Mitra), a shepherdess purchased by lecherous arena promoter Batiatus (Ian McNiece). In the Roman senate, the liberal Agrippa (Alan Bates) curbs the power of the patrician Crassius (Angus MacFadyen), whose wealth ensures his political clout. Spotted toiling in a mine, Spartacus (Goran Visnjic) makes the transition from slave laborer to fighter; although the food is better at Batiatus’s academy, the life expectancy is shorter. Whereas veterans like Draba (Henry Simmons) boast about the survival of the fittest, other warriors longingly imagine the possibility of insurrection. Deemed uncooperative by her owner, Vassinia is demoted to gladiatorial conquest, but rather than claiming her favors, Spartacus falls in love with her. Slumming in the provinces, Crassius entertains his aristocrat pals with a visit to Batiatus's training camp. He orders a match to the death between a well-armed Draba and a disadvantaged Spartacus; incredibly, the victorious Draba declines the thumbs-down directive and is slaughtered by the guards. Galvanized to action, the gladiators break out of the complex and, led by Spartacus, rob their masters and demand liberty. After Spartacus initiates a plan to purchase escape ships for his followers, Rome retaliates by burning slaves alive. Hoping to capitalize on Rome's embarrassment, Crassius lobbies to assume generalship of the imperial army legions. Even Agrippa runs out of checkmates. Can Spartacus lead his followers to victory, or will Crassius use devious means to derail the slaves' rebellion? Splendid art direction, expert fight choreography and competent performances from a generally high-powered cast add up to a sturdy revamp of the 1960 masterwork. Although more faithful to Howard Fast's novel, this production lacks Stanley Kubrick's populist vigor and cast of Hollywood mega-stars.
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