Last year I cringed watching the BBC-produced series “Rome”, where a bunch of undeniably British actors in peplum and sandals pretended to be ancient Romans. Hahahahah!!! To hear somebody called Caius Semproniusspeaking with an East End accent rang as true as Tom Jones trying to pass for a rap singer.
It just didn’t work.
No matter how lusty, sexy and dirty the BBC Romans tried to be, they remained quintessentially British. I expected them to stop their circus fighting and have tea. Not for a second could I forget that Romans never spoke nor looked that way.
Fast forward to last week, end of April 2009. I’m in Italy and I switch the TV on. Sunday night, prime time, RAI1: David Copperfield.
Now, if Britons playing Romans are fake as fakeness, Italians playing 19th century English are plain rubbish. The most English thing about the David Copperfield Italian cast was the custard they ate at some point. The acting was truly terrible. There was no attempt to capture the style of the period. All minor characters were overacted, ugly caricatures; the main female character was totally miscast (I usually like Maia Sansa but she looked like David’s mother rather than his potential lover); and as for poor David, well… he was completely unintelligible. Giorgio Pasotti, perhaps in the vain attempt of sounding modern and “real”, mumbled his words from beginning to end, speaking so fast he seemed like an awkward teenager. I just wanted him to shut up and go.
But it wasn’t not just the poor acting that made me laugh… Nothing in the production was quite right. They did make an effort, poor things. But look at a BBC drama and look at the RAIseries and it’ll be like that game of “spot the differences” you find at the back of some newspapers. On the surface the two seem similar enough. But the moment you start observing the details you realize one of the pictures has things that don’t make sense. It’s the same with David Copperfield. The costumes were sort of all right, but not quite. The exteriors didn’t look at all like England, and unsuprisingly so, since they were shot in the Czech Republic. The houses were posh and beautiful but in the worng style. When you keep mentioning being in londonit won’t be bad to have at least one shot of the city, instead of some random (Czech) buildings withodd pointed windows. I mean, as an Italian who knows England fairly well, I really wasn’t proud. Our David Copperfield looked like the poor cousin of a BBC version, put together with scraps and left overs from other TV shows.
Now, my question is: why dont we leave ancient Rome to the Romans and Victorian England to the English? We dont live in the 50’s anymore, when most people didnt travel, had no idea what other countries were like, hadn’t watched millions of reproductions of past times on the internet and therefore could easily be persuaded that Ceasar looked like a plumber from Sussex and David Copperfield like a Milanese brat. We’ve lost that naivity that made our grandparents gasp in astonishment in front of Taylor’s “Cleopatra”. Ask a 2009 kid to watch the film and the first thing they’ll say is that old Liz “ain’t North African at all!”
These modern attempts at reliving some other culture’s past are simply pathetic, hilarious without meaning to be, and also incredibly boring.
Modern drama would probably cost less and achieve more. Even though it does present a problem that is often sadly insurmountable: it needs good, fresh, original writing. Now, that is a challange.