When I was growing up my aunt Helen, on my mother’s side of the family, felt it was her personal obligation to make me a proud Greek. I was brought up with tales of the glory of Athens and the heroism of Greeks. We, Greeks, I was told had withstood centuries of invaders and preserved our essential Greekness. Of the stories, four stood out. The first was the story of how General Metaxas told the Italian Ambassador: No, when asked if Greece would become a protectorate of Italy in 1940. The second was the Persian defeat at Salamis by the Athenians. The third was Leonidas’ response to Xerxes demand that he give up his weapons: Molon Lave (translation: come and take them). The fourth was during the Greek war of independence the phrase: Better one hour free than a hundred a slave. These are the cherished stories of my youth. And there was a time, in my life, that they inspired me.
So when I saw the film being previewed I was filled with dread. I am not so demanding that the film be a documentary. After all 300 is supposed to be entertainment and the true facts of what happened are unknowable. I was hoping for two things: to be entertained and the film be at list true to the spirit of the tale. After The further adventures of Hercules, Xena: The Warrior Princess, Troy and Alexander the Great that seemed a ridiculously high bar.
On both accounts, entertainment and veracity, the film exceeded my expectations.
The film is fun. It’s a good old fashioned over-the-top blood fest. There is the usual collection of ridiculously attired villians, scantily clad heroes, music, and slow-motion decapitations. There is the usual collection of witty heroic one-liners (including Molon Labe). There is some T and A, but I think the female and male gay population will enjoy more of the T and A than the straight male community.
The film is mostly true to the spirit of the tale and to the Spartans. The Spartans really did throw the disfigured and maimed children down wells. They really did take the children into camps at the age of seven. They really did fight as a phalanx. Their wives really did say: Come back carrying or on your shield when the men left for battle. The battle did really last three days. The Spartans did thwart the Immortals. A solitary Spartan did leave the battle to tell the tale.
As a Greek brought up on the stories of Leonidas the story rang true.
However, there was one fact that irritated me. Now remember, I am an Athenian. And in my version of the story, Leonidas’ heroic defeat was important because it bought the Athenian Navy enough time to trap the Persians at Salamis. And it was at Salamis that the Persian invasion was defeated. The battle of Platea was just some mopping up of the remnants of Xerxes army. Furthermore, from my perspective the victory of the Athenian fleet was what created democracy, Leonidas’ victory created militarism.
In this movie version of the story, Leonidas’ defeat is followed by a Greek victory in Platea. We are meant to believe that it was the Spartan war machine that defeated Xerxes. There is no mention of the Athenians and their defeat of Xerxes’ Navy.
In spite of the omission of Athenian role, I strongly recommend the film.