Serving as a foil to my post on the 5 Most WTF Castings in Historical Movies, this article aims to bring you the best, the brightest, and the most convincing portrayals of all our favorite figures.
1. Siân Phillips as Livia (I, Claudius)
You gotta hand it to Livia. Girl just don’t give a shit! She’ll kill anyone and everyone and still have time to curl her bangs in that weird way every morning.What I love about this portrayal of Livia is that it plays into that wonderfully evil character that was so popularly displayed in all the ancient sources. Was the real Livia probably not a psycho killing biatch? Probably not (to that extent). But who doesn’t love to hate the wicked step-mother and Sian Phillips’ portrayal of the imperious Livia hits the nail on the head. Love her or hate her, the lady’s got style and Blair Waldorf could really take a page out of Livia’s papyrus scroll!
Fave scene: Livia’s revelations to Claudius. I will never eat a fig in peace again.
2. James Purefoy as Mark Antony (Rome)
Playboy. Binge drinker. Gambler. Warrior. My friends, meet Mark Antony as played by James Purefoy. He’s kind of like James Bond but Roman, so that makes him MUCH cooler. Purefoy really brings out his inner frat boy in his portrayal of Antony and i would not have it any other way. Also, to be honest it is not exactly historically inaccurate! Mark Antony was one crazy mofo whose past-times included dressing up as the god of wine/orgies, kicking ass in battle, and racing around in his chariot which would be like the ancient Roman equivalent to Call of Duty (….just roll with it). His portrayal Anthony probably is totally relatable across a millennia, translating perfectly to our generation. I mean who doesn’t want to eat, drink, and fight their way to glory and riches?
Fave scene: Antony takes on the Senate post Caesar assassination. Also, when Antony tries to buy tigers to pull his chariot. BOSS.
3. Maria Kennedy Doyle as Catherine of Aragon (The Tudors)
Poor Catherine of Aragon. For generations, she has been stereotyped as the fat, dowdy, hag who was totally eclipsed by Anne Boleyn’s hotness. Generally, her portrayals in cinema have only reinforced this (Exhibit A) (Exhibit B). However, in my mind Katherine of Aragon is stately and though older, still regal and Maria Kennedy Doyle hits the nail on the head. She’s definitely not some spring chicken, but you could tell she had a little something-something working for her back in the day! Maria also possesses that spiritual quality that I think was a very big part of Catherine’s personality and something that has been missing in a lot of other depictions of Henry’s first queen. I find myself liking Catherine during the course of the show, which is strange as I am Team Anne all the way. it is this likeability that Maria Kennedy Doyle brings to the role that makes this portrayal of Catherine so great. Also that accent could not have been easy, I commend you!
Fave scene: Catherine rips Henry a new one in front of the special divorce council.
4. Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus (Gladiator)
As a preface- Even if you don’t think that Joaquin Phoenix was a very good Commodus, you’ve got a lot of shiny trophies and an Oscar nomination going against you. Personally, I thought Joaquin was perfection. Commodus does not have the best reputation in history probably due to the fact that he was undeniably deluded, pulling stunts such as changing the name of Rome to “Commodiana” and fighting in gladiatorial games as Hercules (yeah, this Hercules). Joaquin, being the fearless bastard he is, not only embraced this crazy character but he brought to the creep so hard that to this role that even to this day when I see Joaquin on the red carpet, I can’t help but shiver a tad. Apparently, Joaquin got so into it, that after filming the (Spoiler Alert, but I hope anyone reading this blog would not consider it so) scene where Commodus kills his father, he fainted from the intensity. Nuff said.
Fave scene: “Tell me what you have been doing, busy little bee….”
5. Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette)
This is a pretty controversial pick. A lot of people really disliked Kirsten in this role as well as generally hating on the movie due to its modern feel and its frivolity. However, that is exactly why I liked it and why I thought Kirsten was a perfect Marie. She took the character of Marie from a careless queen from the pages of history and made her into just another girl. Kirsten brought a level of relate-ability and humanity to the infamous queen and as the movie progressed I genuinely felt sympathy for Marie. I mean, imagine being nineteen years old, having unlimited access to wealth and power, and living in a world that composed entirely of partying. Wouldn’t we all go a bit crazy? Kirsten’s Marie seemed to me like just a normal girl who was thrown into a crazy world and tried to keep afloat. I get that!
Fave scene: Any scene where Marie bought things! It’s all so prettyyyyy