Review: Spartacus

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By George Hopkin on 12.4.2023

Review: Spartacus

Why Spartacus is Worth Watching

Let’s not be shy about it – if you love violence, strong language, and scenes of a sexual nature in your TV shows then Spartacus is one you should be watching. Spartacus has all of that and so much more – it’s by no means a glorified gory porno.

Spartacus takes the history of the gladiator slave rebellion that came in the last years of the Ancient Roman Republic and makes it new for TV.

The historical context is obvious throughout the whole series, with the Romans portrayed as arrogant and vicious people who drink more than their fair share of honeyed wine, love to subject their slaves to all kinds of revolting activities, and, sometimes, have full-blown orgies (that can sometimes end very nastily). The Romans make people fight to the death because, basically, they can. It’s not hard to see who the villains are in this original TV series by American channel Starz.

Amidst all of this extremity are Spartacus and the Ludus (the gladiator school). The main star is a former free Thracian who had his wife and freedom seized from him by the Romans, and the main plotline shows him trying to avenge himself of the injustice.

Spartacus becomes a slave. He isn’t just any slave though – he’s a gladiator, and the show revolves around these enslaved professional fighters that represent the pinnacle of Roman sport and are the Romans ultimate show of the command that they believe they have over the lives of others.

The latest series of the hit show, Spartacus: Vengeance, just wrapped up at the start of the month with a monster finale that included the transformation of the famous historical hero. Since escaping the of the gladiator school of Batiatus, Spartacus grows to become not only a better man, but a great leader of men.

Spartacus: Vengeance is, clearly, a season that revolved around the idea of Spartacus finally getting the revenge for what initially happened to him and getting the closure on the wounds that the Romans cut into him.

With the show you get insane deaths (I challenge you to name a show which offers crazier and gorier ones), explicit sex scenes, and some of the strongest language you’ll hear in a sword-and-sandals re-tell of a classic moment in ancient history.

But Steven DeKnight, producer and writer of Spartacus, should not have his show slated for being extreme in all aspects – it is deliberately so. Unlike some other TV shows, perhaps, Spartacus doesn’t try to hide what it is.

But, after all, if it just rested on its extremity, Spartacus would be a non-event of a show that would have grown old after its first season, Spartacus: Blood and Sand. What the show offers is a cast of complex and heart-rending characters that seem like proper people instead of simple two-dimensional portraits of people. It has classical language and drama that’s inspired by the master poetic dramatist himself, William Shakespeare (it’s true, I swear), and its plot is so acutely drawn that you never get the feeling that anything is forced or that you’re watching some TV drivel.

That’s right – ignore any simple criticism you’ve heard of the show, because it actually has dramatic credibility. It can match any show in that way.

Sometimes you may get the feeling that it’s over-done slightly. That’s natural with a show that has such an amplified attitude towards the general ‘to be avoided’ list of sex, swearing, and gore in mainstream TV. But, as I said, Spartacus knows what it is and doesn’t pretend to dress up as something different.

What DeKnight says that he has to do is think up new, creative ways to have characters killed off and to show scenes that will seriously creep out an audience. And there really are some creative deaths and creepy moments. Think woman jumping off a cliff with a baby, or tongue torn out of someone’s mouth with bare hands, and you’re on the right lines.

As well as that you get a group of truly awful classical villains (comprised of, on the whole, Romans). The worst thing about any villain, too, is that their monstrosity comes from a human heart that a writer explores, and DeKnight does just that. Subsequently you get villains that you actually understand and come round to liking, but who are still so bad that you feel incredibly guilty about it.

You get Batiatus (played by John Hannah), antagonist of the first season, who owns the Ludus and is just an everyman businessman trying to make a way for his self and his family in the world – but he’s not afraid to get his hands very, very dirty along the way. His ambition is matched by show regular, Lucretia (portrayed by Lucy Lawless, of Xena: Warrior Princess), who is Batiatus’ wife. Lucretia is ruthless in her manipulation of those around her as she seeks to get what she wants, but is victimized by her father-in-law whilst through the heartache of being unable to conceive a child.

Another unique thing about the show is that it famously had its main character go from one actor to another. After Andy Whitfield’s superb portrayal in the first season he sadly had to fight against a life-threatening illness that took his life too soon. It was an absolute tragedy on a human level as well as on an acting one as he seemed to be such a great man and also a great up-and-coming young actor.

For Spartacus: Vengeance Liam McIntyre took over the reins and delivered a brilliant job. He auditioned for the part of this hulking gladiator (one that requires an actor to go through an intense gladiator bootcamp for weeks) weighing only 20lbs, so it’s absolutely down to his ability that he got the part. He shines through as a protagonist that struggles to deal with his past and is duty-bound to lead a rebellion of freedom-seekers into the future.

Overall Spartacus is definitely worth your time. It’s a series that will, at least, shock and amaze you, but if you stay for the whole ride instead of jumping off prematurely then you’ll sure be in for something special that’s totally different from anything else on TV.


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