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Netflix Chronicles – Double Feature

January 11, 2006


The Fall of the Roman Empire

Near the end of his life, Emperor Marcus Aurelius charges faithful, upstanding general Flavius (Stephen "I played Messala in Ben-Hur" Boyd) to succeed him and make peace with Rome’s enemies.  The emperor’s son, Commodus (Christopher Plummer), has other ideas.

Sound familiar?  That’s because Gladiator pretty much lifted the basics of the plot.  Of course, Gladiator was a good film.  Fall of the Roman Empire, on the other hand, is abysmal.  So bad, in fact, that I could not make it past the first half hour.  Not even Alec Guiness’ engaging portrayal of Marcus Aurelius could keep my attention.  He tried, bless him, but the script was downright painful.  As was the work from the other actors.

Perhaps what pains me the most about the half hour of the film I watched was that they could play so fast and loose with the themes of the empire, but then turn around and make sly references that only someone absurdly knowledgable about the period (that would be me) would catch, such as a cameo by Pertinax, who took power after Commodus’ death.  That display of knowledge means that the film’s makers had no excuse for the steaming pile they put on screen.

One out of five stars.


The Lion in Winter

Ah, another film about a ruler in the twilight of his life dealing with issues of succession.  This time, we find ourselves in 12th century England.  Henry II (Peter O’Toole) summons his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (played spectacularly by Katherine Hepburn) and his three sons Richard (Anthony Hopkins in his film debut), Geoffrey (John Castle), and John (Nigel Terry) to set the matter of succession straight once and for all.  Henry wants his youngest son John to inherit the throne, but Eleanor is set on Richard inheriting.  Intrigue builds upon intrigue, plots hatch and fade, and in the middle of it all is the young king of France, Phillip (played by Timothy Dalton), aiding and abetting as he sees fit. 

This is simply a phenomenal film.  A joy and a gem I recommend to anyone interested in Medieval intrigue, or in any of the actors in the cast.

Four out of five stars

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