Last Night's TV - Imagine, BBC1; Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town, BBC2

Faith, hope and chariots

It's like wading through sick," said Lee Lyford disconsolately, halfway through
Imagine's film about the making of a theatrical adaptation of the sword-and-sandals epic Ben-Hur. Lyford was the director, one of just a handful of professionals involved in the production, and what was making him feel queasy was the unreliability of some members of his cast, a third of whom had failed to turn up for a rehearsal. At which point, Radio 4 regulars will have heard a very familiar voice commenting on the proceedings. "Is there any point?" it asked plaintively. "The entire project seems to be disintegrating anyway."

The voice was that of Marjorie Antrobus from The Archers, or rather of Margot Boyd, who played her, and was so determined to share her love of theatre with the people of Bath that she left a large chunk of money in her will to fund a drama project, the one proviso being that all those on stage should be amateurs. The director, Fran Landsman, or some diligent researcher, had trawled through The Archers archives so that Boyd could comment on the proceedings from beyond the grave – a nice touch which, apart from that one little dip in morale, mostly delivered encouragement and praise.

As did Lyford himself, of course, working on a project that offered some advantages (there was no shortage of parts), but also some signal challenges. How exactly were they going to stage a sea battle in a trireme, or the film's famous chariot race? Lyford candidly confessed that he didn't have a clue, but seemed confident that they would get there somehow. The solution to one of these conundrums helpfully mopped up some of the overspill of theatrical ambition, which became clear at the early auditions. Those who missed out on the speaking parts got the chance to play a small section of the Mediterranean – a rehearsal process that provided one of the funnier sections of Landsman's film – as Lyford encouraged his cast to really immerse themselves in the full sloshy liquidity of their role. "Really remember this quality," he told them, as they swayed gently like strands of kelp in an ebb tide, "because you have to be able to click into this."

There was, unsurprisingly, quite a bit of stage fright. One novice, Poppy, decided to pose nude for a life class first as a way of desensitising herself to public exposure, which struck you as being a bit like amputating your hand because you've got a splinter stuck in your finger, but seemed to work anyway. Another actor, Caroline, treated the whole enterprise as a kind of life-therapy. "I'd totally lost the sense of myself," she said about the effect of full-time motherhood, but she appeared to have found it again by pretending to be someone else entirely. And, of course, in the end the performance was a triumph, with the chariot race being mimed on the cramped stage of the Theatre Royal to the accompaniment of a Grand National style commentary on the publicaddress system. "I'd say he's cracked it," said Alan Yentob, with reference to Lyford's biggest challenge. I'd say Yentob was being quite kind, frankly, but there was something about the enterprise – the eagerness, the pleasure and the sense of enlargement it gave – that made it virtually impossible to be anything else. Margot Boyd got her money's worth.

The Roman members of the cast traipsed round the Roman baths at one point, as part of their research, picking up on their availability to citizens high and low but missing the fact that there was no plughole. Mary Beard pointed this out in Pompeii: Life and Death in a Roman Town, also spelling out the corollary, which was that Roman bath water got filthier and filthier the more people used it. A doctor at the time warned anyone with an open sore that it was best to give the baths a miss unless you wanted to develop gangrene. Beard claimed she was on a mission to "bust a few myths" here, and she drew on the relatively recent discovery of 34 bodies in a Pompeian cellar to fill out what we already know from the ruins of the Roman city. But the myths, when you got to them, didn't strike you as being very convincing. How many people really believe that Roman society consisted of lark's-tongue-guzzling aristos and malnourished slaves, with nothing in between – one of the "received opinions", which Beard overturned?

Fortunately, she's quite engaging anyway – the sort of classicist who says "willy" rather than "phallus", and isn't too stuffy to confess to a sense of thrill when she tries on a gold Roman bracelet. In any case, it's virtually impossible to make a dull film about Pompeii, in part because of the energies of the city's Tweeters, who – lacking smart phones – had to inscribe their updates on the nearest bit of masonry. "I was here and had a good shag", one unknown Pompeian had scratched into the wall of the town's brothel, though I suppose that could be taken as a posted user's comment, rather than a Tweet. And in one of the town's jakes someone called Apollinaris, doctor to the Emperor Titus, had whiled away a bit of time engraving his name and the phrase "hic cacavit bene" or "had a good shit here". The eruption of Vesuvius, not very long afterwards, has preserved for nearly 2,000 years the evidence that the desire to share your bowel movements with the world is not an eccentricity unique to our own times.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing