Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ian Worthington's "By the Spear"

Ian Worthington is Professor of History at the University of Missouri and author of Alexander the Great: Man and God, Philip II of Macedonia, and Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire:
My book uniquely compares the reigns of Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedonia to show how Philip was the architect of the Macedonian empire and Alexander its master builder. In truly a case of West meeting East, Alexander's conquests brought down the Persian Empire and spread Greek culture as far east as India, making the Greeks aware of being part of a world far bigger than the Mediterranean. I also discuss the problems Alexander faced in dealing with a multi-cultural subject population, and how his successes and failures can inform makers of strategy in culturally different regions of the world today.

A major reason why previous movies about Alexander the Great flopped was because of credible actors. By this I don't mean actors who are poor (far from it), but actors who are believable as the people they're portraying. Colin Farrell in Oliver Stone's movie never worked because he never looked comfortable or credible as Alexander (compare that performance to his character in Phone Booth, still his best movie I think). Nor did Richard Burton in Rossen's movie. But casting Alexander is not easy. He was only 22 when he invaded Asia, died not too far short of his 33rd birthday, and he was no six-foot macho man with muscles like The Rock. We need an actor to play the adult king who is not too old, looks like he's had a few knocks in his life, and is not the "screen hunk" type. Two actors come to mind: Sam Worthington (no relation), even though he's in his late 30s, and even better perhaps British actor Max Beesley (albeit in his 40s).

Alexander is only one person, albeit a central one, in both the book and the movie. His father Philip II was also a great warrior and king, and he suffered all manner of wounds, including an arrow in his right eye (which was sewn shut afterwards). I really like Kim Coates as an actor. He is too old (no offense) to play Alexander, but perfect for Philip, who was not a big hulking man as the armor from what is probably his tomb shows. Coates is likewise slight of build, but he has a commanding presence and a toughness that would make him a very believable Philip.

There's also a host of characters too numerous to mention. Alexander grew up with several boyhood friends who became commanders during his campaigns, men such as Ptolemy (who founded the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt), Nearchus (the admiral who first sailed the thousand miles of the Makran coast), and Hephaestion (who became Alexander's lover). Some good and believable people to play them would be Henry Rollins, Charlie Hunnam, and – just go with me here – Macklemore. Alexander also inherited some tough old generals from Philip; they fought with him loyally, but he came to resent them and eventually did away with them. Chief among these were Parmenion (Ron Perlman is a shoe-in here) and Cleitus, whom Alexander stabbed and killed during a drunken argument – enter Muse Watson for Cleitus. And what about Alexander's bitter enemy, the Persian king Darius III? I'll tap Nestor Serrano for that role.

The pattern is emerging that we're not recruiting the sort of handsome, muscle-bound men with perfect white teeth that drive far too many Hollywood movies these days (no disrespect intended to any of the gentlemen named above). Instead, we need actors (or rappers) who have to look like they grew up in the tough love world that was Macedonia, where boys were taught to ride, hunt, and fight almost before they could talk, and men could not recline at the wild drinking parties until they had killed their first wild boar with only a spear. If only Alexander had carried a machete: we could then be treated to Danny Trejo as the king.

But of course we do need some beautiful people – this is a movie after all. And so we turn to the ladies, and just a few examples. For Philip's fourth wife and Alexander's mother, Olympias, there can be only one choice: Katey Sagal. No different from Gemma in Sons of Anarchy, Olympias was scheming, controlling, ruthless, and insecure; she may even have poisoned Alexander's older brother (the son of Philip by a different wife) so that Alexander would become heir to the throne, she may even have been part of a conspiracy to assassinate Philip so that Alexander could become king, and she was forever meddling in politics.

Then there is Alexander's wife, Roxane of Bactria (Afghanistan), one of the most tragic figures of this period. This one is a no brainer: the stunning Afghan actress Gihana Khan. Finally, Alexander was said to have had a sexual relationship with the Persian queen mother Sisygambis. To play her there is none better than the equally stunning Shohreh Aghdashloo.

If only this wasn't a dreamcast...
View a slideshow of the rise and fall of the Macedonian Empire in pictures.

Ian Worthington is Professor of History at the University of Missouri.

My Book, The Movie: Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece.

The Page 99 Test: Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece.

--Marshal Zeringue