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(Credit: TIFF)

Film

Revisiting the scene in Stanley Kubrick film 'Spartacus' that stars Anthony Hopkins

@Russellisation

Just over 60 years since the release of the original film, Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick, remains a classic – even if it often remains forgotten among the glory of the director’s remaining filmography.

Overshadowed by the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s historical epic starring Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier still stands as a classic piece of cinema that bookended Hollywood’s golden age. 

With Kirk Douglas in the iconic titular role, Spartacus follows the story of a hardy gladiator who seeks a violent revolt against the decadent Roman Republic as opposing powers look to crush the uprising. Whilst Stanley Kubrick was only the director of the film, he came to blows with cinematographer Russell Metty during the production, with Metty complaining about Kubrick’s unusually precise instructions for the camerawork. On one occasion when Metty threatened to quit, Stanley Kubrick even said, “You can do your job by sitting in your chair and shutting up. I’ll be the director of photography.”

The detailed storyboards Saul Bass created for Stanley Kubrick film ‘Spartacus’

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Sadly, lead actor Kirk Douglas passed away in 2020, over 30 years after the death of his co-star Laurence Olivier, the actor behind Rebecca, Othello and The Battle of Britain who passed away in 1989. Olivier’s death came shortly before the restoration of Spartacus in 1991 that saw pieces of lost footage spliced together to bring the classic film back to life, including several scenes originally cut by the censors. 

Whilst the film was being recut and restored, producer Jim Katz began to arrange for the completion of the ‘oysters and snails’ scene that was previously omitted from the original film. Robert A. Harris, who was brought in to help with the restoration thanks to his work on Lawrence of Arabia then contacted Joan Plowright, the widow of Sir Laurence Olivier to seek permission to find a new actor to replace Laurence Olivier’s voice. 

Joan reported back that the only actor she wanted to replace her late husband’s work was Anthony Hopkins, the British thespian behind Silence of the Lambs and Hitchcock, who, despite finding the request unusual, stated: “If it’s got to be done, and Joan suggested she’d like me to do it…an honour”. 

After agreeing to redub the lines with his finest Laurence Olivier impression, Stanley Kubrick sent through a fax with instructions as to how the scene should be acted and the restored scene came to life. 

You can find the restored scene with Anthony Hopkins’ incredible impersonation, below.