Blood, Orgies, Nudity... Sneak Peek at The Spartacus Epic


There's a lot to thank the ancients for... roads, the calendar, astronomy, our mathematical system, philosophy, town planning, plumbing, wine - and a plethora of raunchy films and TV series. Ever since Caligula in 1980 - a movie so blue Oscar-winner Helen Mirren refuses to talk about it - producers have seized on the chance to rewrite history with as much blood, gore and sex as they can cram in.

Gladiator and Troy maintained the tradition but it was the TV series Rome in 2005-07 which used BC debauchery most flagrantly to sell millions of box sets for HBO. Ciaran Hinds played Caesar, Polly Walker an unforgettable Atia of the Junii and there was more naked flesh on show than a Spencer Tunick photograph.

Now even that seems to have been surpassed by a new sword-and-sandals epic, Spartacus, which is so rude campaigners are trying to block it from British screens. Set once again during the time of the Roman Empire, the TV series features full-frontal nudity, extreme violence and explicit scenes of orgies.

Surprisingly at the centre of this, well, orgy of sex and violence that is Spartacus: Blood And Sand is the popular Scottish actor John Hannah, star of Four Weddings And A Funeral and Sliding Doors.

He plays Batiatus to Welshman Andy Whitfield's Spartacus in a drama based only loosely on the historical character and depicting violent gladiator scenes with large amounts of nudity. It pulled in more than a million viewers in the U.S. and has already been snapped up by Australian, Canadian and Dutch networks.

The news that UK independent broadcasters are also keen to buy the series comes in the wake of a report from the Home Office which said children are over-exposed to violent and sexual imagery.

MediaWatch UK, the lobby group campaigning for higher standards in broadcasting, believes Spartacus should not be allowed in Britain, even late at night.

'We can no longer ignore the fact that what viewers see on television has an impact on society,' said director Vivienne Pattison.

'Even the Government is asking the producers of soap operas to include safe-sex messages in their programmes now. There are numerous studies linking exposure to violence on TV with violent behaviour at large and if there is the slightest possibility that explicit sex and violence on screen can cause this harm, is it worth the risk in the interests of entertainment?'

The show, which airs on the U.S.cable network Starz, is described the makers as 'graphic and visceral' and a mixture of 'live action, graphic novel effects and brutal battle sequences'.

It is loosely based on the historical figure of Spartacus – a Thracian gladiator who led a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic in 73BC.

In the drama, slave Spartacus, played by Australian actor Andy Whitfield, is purchased by ruthless Batiatus (Hannah) and his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and forced to fight in the gladiatorial arena.

The cast often appear fully naked acting out graphic sexual scenes, such as a recent episode where Sliding Doors and Four Weddings And A Funeral actor John Hannah stripped off with Lucy Lawless, of Xena: Warrior Princess, for a bathing scene.

An episode due to be aired next week is titled 'Whore', while the final show in the series is 'Kill Them All'.

It was described as 'soft porn' by the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper, while the LA Times described it as 'brutal' and employing 'seas' of blood as 'bodies are stabbed, slashed, sledgehammered and variously dismembered'.

The Boston Herald said the show 'fetishises violence even more than it depicts sex and nudity, which is often.' And USA Today said of the American screening: 'Were it broadcast free over the air where children might find it, one might blanch.'

MediaWatch's Ms Pattison said they also feared that once the programme was aired on television, children could easily gain access at video-on-demand services online.

'Ofcom research shows that fewer than a third of parents use the password-protected services available to screen what their children can access,' she added.