A great historical film can take any history and create a cinematic experience that is entertaining, moving and enlightening. Actors will be convincing, dialogue strong, story entertaining and costumes – importantly – accurate.
Pompeii, the latest from Paul W.S Anderson (Resident Evil), is not this film. Entertaining – sure, moving – maybe, enlightening – probably not.
A quick look at Google’s top news results is pretty indicative of how most critics felt.
The dialogue which features gems like, “Look! We’re home!” can be cringeworthy. The actual eruption of the mountain is visually spectacular but historically speaking – far from accurate. The action scenes are the best part and Kit Harington/Jon Snow of Game of Thrones fame does a supreme job as the hunky gladiator, Milo.
The costume design is also a mixed bag. Historical inaccuracy in block-busters can sometimes be overlooked. The feeling and impression of a story is often of more importance than zealous adherence to exact history.But in Pompeii, the problems are not with historical inaccuracy. Beautiful, dirty and sometimes sexy they are also uninspired at other times.
Costume designer, Wendy Partridge, fresh from last years Thor: The Dark World has a history of working on action blockbusters (Conan the Barbarian, Resident Evil: Revelation, Hellboy) and it shows. The costumes for the male characters are beautiful.
They are gorgeous to look at and work in harmony with the characters. Marcus Corvus’ (Keifer Sutherland) gold plated armour is so very Roman.Severus’ (Jared Harris) looks aristocratic. Our hero, Milo looks, well, sexy. There’s no getting around the fact that Kit Harington (and his abs) are the biggest drawing card for the film and Wendy Partridge’s costumes capitolize on the British star’s sex-symbol status. For the other two prominent male characters, the costumes try to make the characters human and alive – a difficult task given the actors are working with a flat screenplay.
The female characters don’t do quite so well by comparison.
Cassia (Emily Browning) and Ariadne (Jessica Lucas) are a lady and her handmaiden respectively. But dressed as they are, the only way to tell the difference is that Ariadne is holding a serving plate. While it looks pretty – it’s inaccurate to the history and worse, confusing. It isn’t clear until this moment in the film that Ariadne is a servant – she could be a sister, friend or chaperone. While it’s easy to see different status and class in the male characters costumes, the female characters blend into a silky but homogenous group. They are beautiful costumes – but thinly drawn, they doom the female characters to appear as only secondary characters in a film dominated by the masculine.
Partridge’s designs are far from the worst swords and sandals costumes but they’re still not the best. For Kit Harington, it’s probably a good thing he’s got Game of Thrones to go back to. As for the female costumes on that…
Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.