• A Wild West Hero: Motifs of the Hollywood Western in four movies about Hadrian’s Wall

    Antony Keen (see profile)
    Classicists, 55 B.C.-449 A.D., England--Hadrian's Wall
    Item Type:
    Classical receptions
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    One noticeable thing about four Hadrian's Wall movies of between 2004 and 2011 is the degree to which they employ the plot structures and mise-en-scène of the classic American western. The villa north of the Wall in King Arthur, which makes no sense in terms of Roman settlement patterns, becomes comprehensible as the equivalent of the isolated homestead that needs rescuing by the US Cavalry. Centurion, as Neil Marshall freely admits, steals substantially from the prolonged chase of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, including a virtual recreation of that scene’s climax. The Seal People of The Eagle are visually coded in costumes and make-up reminiscent of recent cinematic depictions of Native Americans, such as that seen in Dances with Wolves. Only The Last Legion avoids that approach, choosing instead to appropriate the mysticism of Star Wars (which has itself been described as a Western in disguise). Why are such elements so attractive to makers of Roman movies that they want to use them to supplement the more traditional tropes of the epic? Why does The Last Legion choose a different route? If moviemakers are so keen to make disguised Westerns, why are they not making real Westerns? Perhaps there is a certain portrayal of the Other that is no longer acceptable when applied to Native Americans, but can be applied on a different continent and at a greater chronological remove.
    Originally presented in 2014, and then presented at greater length in 2015.
    Last Updated:
    3 months ago
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