Ancient Egypt is not my only fascination with past civilizations. I enjoy stories of Roman days too and gladiators are among the most fascinating characters in that genre.
For a long LONG time, my favorite gladiator was Demetrius, in the movie “The Robe” and then his own sequel “Demetrius and the Gladiators.” Actor Victor Mature’s hair was maybe a bit overly 1950s for my taste but I enjoyed how his character grew and changed and eventually came to find himself again. I remember agonizing over the part where his love interest, Lucia, gets taken away from him (only to return at the HEA) and he thinks she’s dead, whereupon he turns into the fearless, heartless gladiator for most of the rest of the movie. I pined while he fell into the clutches of Messalina, the misguided bad girl. I thought he looked hot in his Roman centurion uniform, loved the crested helmet and the swirling red cloak. I fantasized about being the beautiful girl in the coma who awoke to find him grieving at my bedside. Having a romance novelist’s brain, I happily filled in what would come next for them, which of course the 1950’s movie left out.
My next gladiator was a bit more modern-while-portraying -ancient: Duncan Regehr as Lydon in the 1984 TV movie (which evidently was also issued as a mini series at some point). His longing for the blind girl Nydia, matched with her infatuation for someone else, just tore at my romantic heart. I wouldn’t have required the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to realize what I was missing when it came to alpha male Lydon. The scene where Nydia’s trying to find him in the chaos of the falling ash and earthquakes and ends up in his arms gets me every time. Never mind all the trappings of a 1980’s TV movie around them, Lydon and Nydia have some terrific moments together. When he tells her how he would die in the arena rather than kill the man he believes she loves and we the viewer can see that Nydia finally understands who she really loves and how much, is just totally satisfying. And of course they do get their HEA. I would have written the subplot about the rich but plebeian Julia (with the dreadful Dad) and aristocratic but poor Clodius with a more HEA but I guess you can’t have too many couples surviving the total destruction of Pompeii. Don’t want to be overly saccharine!
And then of course there was Andy Whitfield as Spartacus, fiercely devoted to his wife Sura. I do think that STARZ series and its prequel and sequel have set a high standard for anyone who wants to do a movie or TV show featuring gladiators. While I watched the series primarily for Mr. Whitfield’s portrayal of the title character, I also devoured the subplot about the forbidden but tender romance between Crixus (the terrific Manu Bennett) and Naevia the slave girl. Crixus is a guy more or less content with his lot in life, at the top of the gladiatorial hierarchy when we first meet him, really good at what he does in the arena and top dog at the ludus. Then he becomes attracted to, next deeply in love with Naevia, and his perspective on things changes. He starts to dream of marriage, children, a happy old age maybe…but first he has to win freedom and somehow obtain Naevia’s freedom too. And so far, no happy ending is in view.
So who’s your favorite gladiator?