Film set in ancient Rome hits home at today's politicians

It is one of those films you go to expecting the worst. The posters give ample warning: overweight actors in togas gesticulating inanely, scantily clad actresses with saucy expressions showing off how "prosperous" - as the felicitous Italian phra se has it, they are in the chest department and, most embarrassing of all, the dreadful Leslie Nielson, he of the Naked Gun films, putting on his characteristic startled expression as he lies stripped to the waist in a Roman bath.

And yet there must be something special about S.P.Q.R., the latest offering from Italy's distinctly low-brow comedy duo, the Vanzina brothers. In the few weeks since its release the film has become the third-biggest money-spinner in Italian cinema history. The success certainly owes nothing to the critics, who have slammed S.P.Q.R. as a waste of time and money.

The explanation lies surely in the subject matter: set in a pop-up version of ancient Rome, the film sells itself as a satire of Italy's modern-day corruption scandals.

The plot will sound familiar to the most cursory of students of modern Italy. A judge comes down to the capital from Milan and stumbles on a trail of corruption and vice leading to two powerful Senators. Political forces work to stop him digging up the dirt but the judge ploughs on, unravelling a vast network of bribery at the heart of the Republic.

To ram home the point, the judge is even called Antonio, just like modern Italy's champion crime-buster Antonio di Pietro. The message, it seems, is that nothing much has changed: Italians are chancers and grafters by nature and that is the way they willalways be. S.P.Q.R. stands not only for Senatus Populusque Romanus but also Sono Porci Questi Romani - these Romans are revolting.

Unfortunately, it wins no points for cinematic bravura. It looks like a Naked Gun version of Spartacus with a few doses of Asterix and Carry on Cleopatra thrown in. Everything reeks of cliche, from the opening chariot jam on the Via Appia to the Versacius fashion-show (geddit?), the gibes about Milan-Rome rivalry, and the slapstick.

More serious though is the gloss the film puts on Italy's Tangentopoli bribery scandal. It makes short shrift of Judge Antonio's integrity, showing him up as a bungler as susceptible to the lure of high living as anyone. He ends up forgiving his arch-enemy, Senator Caesar Atticus, and joins with him against the eminence grise of the Senate, played by Nielson. Their efforts backfire and they wind up in a hard-labour camp and then - Spartacus-like - on crucifixes along the Via Appia.

The moral is that judges are as bad as politicians, if not directly in cahoots with them - a line much peddled by the short-lived prime minister Silvio Berlusconi last year in his efforts to keep criminal investigators off his back. The period setting ofthe film makes its message only more reactionary: if corruption has been the name of the game for 2,000 years, what is the point trying to change now?

The most depressing aspect of S.P.Q.R. is that audiences seem to buy this line and come back for more. H L Mencken once wrote the function of satire was to "afflict the comfortable and bring comfort to the afflicted". One does not imagine S.P.Q.R. striking much terror into the heart of Bettino Craxi, the disgraced former prime minister crying foul against the judiciary from self-imposed exile in Tunisia. Who knows, if he saw the film he might even have a good chuckle.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine