Saturday, May 08, 2004

How to be an historical consultant: Robin Lane Fox

I've often talked here about the role played by historical consultants in films and documentaries (and I have written a little about my limited experience of the latter). In RogueClassicism David Meadows draws attention to the following delightful piece in today's Times:

Into battle with Alexander
Oliver Stone is turning the deeds of Alexander the Great into a sword and sandals epic. Historian Robin Lane Fox agreed to advise on period detail — just as long as he could lead the cavalry
Big movies are notorious for trampling on history; I have just given the year’s biggest movie the chance of trampling on a historian. In November, Oliver Stone’s film about Alexander the Great will burst on the world. I have been the film’s historical adviser and in September last year I galloped on my stallion across the Moroccan desert at the head of Oliver’s cavalry charge. We were filming the battle of Gaugamela, Alexander’s greatest victory over the Persians . . . . .

. . . . . My colleagues told me that for historians, Stone was supposed to be like Satan, perhaps because they had seen his film of Nixon and I had not. Like the poet John Milton, I have to say I quickly became very fond of Satan. Anyway, the claim that Stone has no historical sense is completely untrue.

I was stretched, as he was, by constant consultations which were concerned to do as much justice as possible to the little evidence which we have . . . .
The full story is apparently to be told in a documentary this week:

Charging for Alexander
BBC Four, Tuesday, 8.30pm.
Historian Robin Lane Fox is one of the world's leading experts on Alexander the Great. His advice has been sought by some of Hollywood's biggest filmmakers as they've looked to bring the life of history's greatest military commander to the big screen.

Now Oliver Stone has succeeded where other directors have failed, with his film Alexander, set to reach cinemas later this year with Colin Farrell in the title role. Naturally, Stone turned to Lane Fox to help him get the film's historical details right, and Lane Fox agreed, on one condition. He wanted Stone to help him fulfil a lifetime ambition: to ride with the Macedonian cavalry.

Charging for Alexander follows the eccentric don from his Oxford home to the film's Moroccan desert set, where he dresses in period armour and encounters a sceptical crew, a foul-mouthed leading man, and a director who insists on making up historically inaccurate names for his soldiers. The experience marks a bizarre change from Lane Fox's usual life as a teacher, but will he make the final cut?
Definitely on the one to watch list.

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