Magazine article The Spectator

Beware the Hun

Magazine article The Spectator

Beware the Hun

Article excerpt

In the past, television battle scenes consisted of half a dozen men in armour knocking seven bells out of each other.

Then the camera angle switched and the same six men were still bashing the others, but from below. Next one of them fell ('Aaaargh!') and the other five kept on. It was not altogether convincing. Now, thanks to computer-generated images -- CGI -- an entire army can be conjured up, literally on a screen in someone's bedroom. So in Attila the Hun (BBC 1, Wednesday) the warlord could look over an entire Roman army, tens of thousands of men in ranks stretching across the whole horizon, smoke rising from distant fires. Suspend your disbelief a moment, forget you're looking at pixels rather than people, and the sight is awesome. Then we cut to six actors hitting each other and going 'Aaaargh!' Disbelief was at first a little hard to suspend. The opening credits announced: 'It has been written with the advice of modern historians'; weasel words indeed. Was the advice followed? Or was it on the lines of, 'Look, this is hopeless. Give up'? Then there was the language, always a problem.

Do you go for a sub-Shakespearean pastiche of all-purpose olde talke -- 'Zounds, I would sell my ancestral birthright for yon maiden's love. Hither, beguiling charmer. . . '? Or plump for the modern demotic?

Which they did: 'That's easy for you to say';

'I'll make it worth your while!' -- not really like bloodthirsty Dark Age warriors, in vocabulary or spirit.

Rory McCann played Attila as the kind of Glaswegian you would not want to meet late on a Saturday night. He had a brother called Bleda. It's lucky Attila was the elder;

'Bleda the Hun' would have sounded much less scary. (I like to think there was another brother, Gummo the Hun, who quit the act and went into agency work. ) Suffering a serious sense of humour failure, Attila throws a knife into Bleda's throat, for laughing at him. But he was always moody.

So far so embarrassing. But the programme grew on me. The computerised battle scenes were astonishing. The siege towers used to attack the city of Naissus were utterly convincing. Best of all was the way the programme conveyed Attila's ferocious, unstoppable need for conquest. He suffered from serious mission creep. He wanted neither power nor land, but roved the known earth looking for gold, endless quantities of gold, like a crosser version of Tony Blair. …

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