The Private Lives of Pompeii

By Carver, Emma | Antiquity, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The Private Lives of Pompeii


Carver, Emma, Antiquity


Channel 4, 30 September 2002 90 minute drama-documentary Director: Richard Curson Smith Producer: John Wyver & Sebastian Grant

With the possible exception of the pyramids, Pompeii is arguably the foremost archaeological site in the consciousness of a European television audience. So how would you make a new programme about this Roman city that could be termed truly innovative without compromising the integrity of the archaeology?

The Private Lives of Pompeii concentrated on the people that lived and worked in Pompeii at the time of its destruction, as depicted in the archaeology of their houses, their tombs and the surviving documents that relate to them. Rather than use a presenter, the programme uses three story-lines plaited together to form a clever multivocal commentary. A female narrator (voiceover) introduces us to the themes and ideas that lie behind the structure of the Roman society of Pompeii, themes which are then played out by actors illustrating the private lives of four key characters. A third commentary endorses what the viewer has seen and heard by relaying evidence through interviews with historians and archaeologists.

The drama unfolds in the years between the earthquake of AD62 an the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, a time, we are told, of uncertanity and change. An intense atmosphere is created through the re-enactments which are staged in the surviving streets and houses of Pompeii itself; thus curiousity about the private individuals elegantly leads us at the same time to the structure of Pompeian society and to many of the town's most important buildings.

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