Friday, 18 December 2009


There is a scene in the wonderful Withnail & I when Jake the poacher accuses Withnail of “prancing like a tit”. This pretty much sums up one of my hobbies – historical re-enactment (specifically, ancient Greek). I love the social aspect, the performance element and, most of all, the dressing up. There is one facet of the latter that is bothering me – that of decay. It’s all too common for reenactors’ outfits to be very clean. It is not unreasonable to suppose that, back in the day, a hoplite’s kit could, upon occasion, have been pristine and his armour polished to a mirror like finish. However, it is far more likely that the lack of detergents, the limited durability of natural dyes and paints and the varying quality of materials, when combined with a month or two of campaigning, would render all his kit pretty unkempt. And that's before he got into a fight. Even when made from the same materials, today's cloth is more uniformly woven, our paints more waterproof and lightfast and our factory-treated leather extremely supple.

There was a definite shift in the cinema of the 80s to render historical scenes with a more realistic level of decay. A wonderful proponent of this is Terry Gilliam whose Jabberwokcy (his first solo directorial effort) is a shining example. Most film makers who needed to film a scene in a castle would, until then, have built a set. Gilliam simply filmed in real (ruined) castles. The reason I mention Gilliam though is that his vision of Agamemnon in Time Bandits is simply stunning. Sean Connery's costume is caked in dust, his tunic threadbare and his helm so rusty it has lost its shine entirely. This is a far more realistic and exciting depiction and I think it would be great to see more reenactors follow suit.

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