Film of the Week: Spartacus (1960)

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Stanley Kubrick directs Kirk Douglas, Peter Ustinov and Jean Simmons in this epic slave revolt against the Roman republic.

Gun for hire Kubrick distanced himself from this later despite probably having more control than most modern auteurs on this runaway production. All his usual concerns are here; dehumanisation by an incomprehensible gargantuan power, exceeding and refining genre, authenticity of setting, the politics of sex, war and the inevitably of death. And sure he may have filmed Kirk and Dalton Trumbo’s enforced scenes of a socialist utopian sub-society forming through gritted teeth (and he certainly seems more interested in the perverse and decadent corruption of the flavourful senate than the loves and cohesion of the bland freed slaves) but that doesn’t slash or warp the beautifully large canvas he has painted this colourful blockbuster on. The gladiatorial training camp feels like a dry run for his iconic work in Full Metal Jacket, the battles are magnificent and the romance between Spartacus and Jean Simmons has a wholesome chemistry… despite its sex slave roots. Ustinov is brilliant as the¬†egregiously charming and self serving slave trader (only non-judgmental Kubrick could view such a character in a sympathetic, even likeable, light and get away with it). Whether you approach it as a thrilling Sunday afternoon killing adventure or the first large scale work of cinema’s most recognisable artist, Spartacus stands the test of time like rare few others in the sword and sandals genre.

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