by Christopher Roberts
” To this day, I credit this film and Ridley Scott, for igniting this incredible imagination inside me.”Elliot McMillan
Friends, Romans, film makers, lend me your… eyes?! As I introduce our latest EFC member, Elliot McMillan. Elliot is a talented Actor and Writer from Colchester, who after studying at the National Youth Theatre, has appeared in various films, including the recent A Love Story Set in Camden, which will soon hit the festival circuit. Elliot is now also joining The Colchester Theatre Group and is cast in their latest play Things I know to be True, showing at The Headgate Theatre in April.
So let’s begin; and with this being the final ‘TFF’ article for the year, let’s end it on a high note, as Elliot and I, talk about one of his favourites films and one of the biggest and most epic films of the year 2000.
Gladiator, Directed by Ridley Scott, is a film that I wasn’t allowed to watch as a young boy, but I’m so glad I did – because it was everything I dreamed it would be. It was the first film I remember sitting down and watching the whole way through without moving. I was captivated. When I watched it for the first time, I felt I got introduced to a whole new world of cinematic storytelling – Through the hard-hitting link to real-life experiences and the brutal blood sequences shown throughout the film.
The very first scene had me hooked. As the suspense was building and the music score became more intense, my eyes became glued to the screen. It was this combination of stunning visuals and the incredible storytelling of a historical event that not only opened my eyes to the love of history but also the love of storytelling.
At this point in my life, I started to write my own stories and dreamt of someday making my own films and bringing them to life. To this day, I credit this film and Ridley Scott, for igniting this incredible imagination inside me. It wasn’t just the extraordinary visuals that inspired me but also the music score, as it moved me throughout every fight sequence. The music was composed by Hans Zimmer, who also composed another of my favourite childhood films, The Lion King, making him an inspiration in my eyes.
Russell Crowe, who played ‘Maximus’, the protagonist, alongside his onscreen enemy ‘Commodus’, played by Joaquin Phoenix, both gave incredible performances. They immersed me in the story through their astounding acting and commitment to their roles. For me, Crowe, who played the slave turned hero, ‘Maximus’, had some real dimension and arc – creating a character full of transformations and developments throughout the movie.
A few years ago, I went on a trip to Rome for a long weekend. The first thing I wanted to do when I arrived was to visit the Colosseum and that is precisely what I did. I had become fascinated by it and it’s beauty. It is honestly the most amazing thing I have ever seen in person and exactly how I had pictured it, based on how it’s portrayed throughout the film. I had to be dragged away from it, or I could have stayed there all day. It is crazy to imagine all the different things they used to do there!
For me, it’s not just a story of brutality; it’s also about love, loss and overcoming your inner battles (no pun intended). Without giving any spoilers, the ending is unlike anything I have ever seen before; it brought a whole new outlook to my experience of films, as they had always appeared to have a happy ending. Gladiator has always been an inspiration for me, and I hope that it will inspire you too.
“Are you not entertained?!” screamed ‘Maximus’, the words echoing across the small arena to the crowd that watched in awe and silence. It was a short line, but a powerful one and profoundly remembered by viewers. It was also a line that gave me thought to a question: Was he shouting at them? or us, the viewers? The question gave me food for thought as I began to wonder how different gladiator battles are from today’s entertainment. The people of Rome went to The Colosseum to watch these fights for the same reason we went to the cinema, for entertainment.
Sure, back then it was to watch actual people fight, not just for glory, but for their lives and
hopefully, their freedom. But the audience didn’t just go there to witness death. They came for entertainment, to see retellings of epic battles and more importantly, to cheer for their heroes and jeer at the villains (very much like the ones in this story).
As then and as they do now, they gave us a hero to cheer. ‘Maximus’, played beautifully by Russell Crowe, gave such depth to the character. Elliot explained why it was such an outstanding performance which I thoroughly agree with. Still, I have to talk about Joaquin Phoenix, as he gave us a great villain to jeer at, the Roman Emperor ‘Commodus’. I’ve only seen a handful of films with him in, but every time I do, I get swept away by his performance and this was no different – He gave us a villain to truly despise.
Like ‘Maximus’ theirs more depth to ‘Commodus’ than at first glance. Deep down, he’s just a man who wants to be loved – by his father, his sister and the people of Rome, yet he never gets it. Then, as he watches ‘Maximus’ achieve all of this, you see how deeply it effects Commodus, slowly driving him into a mixture of despair, madness, paranoia and leading him to do some genuinely barbaric things. They gave us a villain to hate, but throughout the film, a small part of me cannot help but pity him. So, instead of the real life ‘Commodus’, who was a true monster, it instead gave us a complex antagonist and one of my favourite movie villains.
Then there’s the director, it’s easy to see him as the Roman Emperor – who decides the fate of the gladiators in the arena, but I can’t help but think of him more like the character ‘Cassius’, the head of the Colosseum. It was a minor role in the film but an important one, as he chose what happened in the arena. It was his role to entertain the audience, but he also had the power to make these gladiators into something more, into legends and heroes for the crowd to worship, just like a director.
In this case, it’s Ridley Scott, with the talent and experience to handle a film of this magnitude and make it something truly spectacular. Within the first 10 minutes, we have a truly epic battle and that’s just a warm-up – as we witness one epic sequence after another! But, it is more than that. He brought life to the ancient city of Rome and the Colosseum, creating a striking world, like we were looking back in time. Like Cassius, he made a story and its characters that will be forever loved and remembered as that of legends.
Over 2000 years later, despite our advancements and the changes in our society, we still seek the same thing, to be entertained. Sure, it’s different, but not so much that someone like me can’t spot the similarities. People still strive to engage audiences and I can’t help but smile at this; to know that in the years that have gone by, no matter what has changed, or how we have changed, we still seek that simple enjoyment of entertainment in various forms.
As for my final thoughts on this movie, I look back at the question ‘Maximus’ shouted at the audience, and I can safely say – I was. However, I was more than that: I was enthralled, I was moved and like Elliot, “I hope that it will inspire you too.”
Joaquin Phoenix was apparently incredibly nervous on set. So much so, that he asked Russell Crowe to beat him up before their big scene together, in order to help psyche Phoenix up!
Crowe was at a loss and went to Richard Harris for advice, to which Harris replied, “Let’s get him pissed.” So over the course of several hours and many pints of Guinness, Crowe and Harris helped their co-star “relax”.
Chris Roberts has worked on many film projects across Essex as a boom operator and production assistant. Chris is a full time film trivia expert!
Elliot is a talented Actor and Writer from Colchester, who after studying at the National Youth Theatre, has appeared in various films, including the recent A Love Story Set in Camden