There’s a lot to be said for cutting to the chase. A big, stirring speech is a powerful and moving moment before the climactic battle of Henry V, say. But David Franzoni’s first draft of Gladiator gives Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) the early limelight, with an extended speech to his troops that would have had audiences shuffling in their seats. It’s very well written, but, although the plot hinges on his fateful decision to favour Russell Crowe’s Maximus (Narcissus in the first draft), the audience needs to be invested in the hero from the off. Director Ridley Scott, script rewriters John Logan and William Nicholson instead went for the calm before the storm, with farmer / reluctant warrior Maximus crumbling the earth between meaty hands and smiling at a bird, oblivious to the follies of man. A true leader in the field, his speech is short and sweet:
MAXIMUS: Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in the green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled. For you are in Elysium, and you’re already dead!
MAXIMUS: Brothers, what we do in life… echoes in eternity.
Here is David Franzoni’s original opening monologue by Marcus Aurelius.
- GERMAN FRONT – VINDOBONA – 182 A.D. – NIGHT
On the edge of a forest sixty year old EMPEROR MARCUS
AURELIUS stands in the back of an unharnessed supply wagon
surrounded by a dark so black it’s barely moved by blazing
A WOLF — living symbol of Rome — stand before the wagon
held on a leash by a battle-hardened SENIOR CENTURION:
Marcus wears the purple robe of imperial power over his
leather and copper segmented upper body armor (LORICA
SEGMENTATA). His breath clouds in the bitter cold; the
man is tired to the bone.
OPPOSITE STANDS THE ROMAN ARMY
This is the mighty army of the Danube, yet it seems like
these men — buried in the shadows and as frozen and worn
as their leader — have come to the very edge of the world
to be swallowed by this wilderness.
NUMIDIAN ARCHERS, tall Africans, out of place in this
freezing land, stand behind their leader — JUBA — who
has the whip-like body of a dancer. Each carries his
recurve bow as if it were a delicate musical instrument.
Quivers of brightly colored arrows hang from their backs.
Field commanders — CONTUBERNIUM — stand by each row of
- Less numerous, and above the Contubernium, are
the CENTURIONS, and at the front line of the mass of
cohorts are four TRIBUNES.
BEFORE THE ENTIRE ARMY
mounted on magnificent grey horses, are two LEGATE, the
overall commanding generals, wearing ornate lorica
- The first Legatus is QUINTUS CLARUS, Rome
Army General: fair-haired, fit, forty. He has the face
of a boy.
The second is NARCISSUS MERIDAS, General, Spanish Gemina
Felix VII Army: dark hair, proud and though about
Quintus’ age his face is like a map of a soldiers’s hard life.
- Narcissus’ eyes are locked on Marcus like the eyes
of a long-suffering pilgrim on the icon of his single hope.
Just before Marcus is about to speak, Commodus steps into
the wagon looking out of breath. Surprised, Marcus
embraces him and then Commodus stands behind his father
wrapped tightly in his bearskin robe. He’s trying to look
tough but unlike his father he’s not used to this rigorous life.
NARCISSUS & QUINTUS
swap looks as if Commodus were the last person they were
Marcus’ voice booms out tough and firm as if defying the
cold and dark.
Today may be the last day in the
life of Rome… For nine hundred
years Rome has lived! For nine
hundred years architects,
mathematicians, poets, and
philosophers have fled within her
arms sheltered from superstition,
prejudice, hate, and every form of
human cruelty. We Romans have
become a light in the barbarian
No trace of feeling, just his breath slowly clouding in
the frigid air.
Seeming to look at each legionnaire as he speaks.
For nine hundred years this one
heart of humankind has been defended
by the likes of Pompeii, Mark
Anthony, Julius Caesar, The Divine
Augustus, Claudius, Trajan,
Hadrian, and my own father Antoninus
Pius. Now, it has come down to us!
It has come down to this one day…
He leans forward on the rail of the wagon, a gesture that
seems to bring him closer to the men.
Five years we’ve lived together, you
and I, in a state of total war. We
have shared cold, rain, heat,
bitterly watched the deaths of
beloved friends. We are not alone.
Look around you! Consuls and
Senators have forsworn the luxuries
of home and moved with us to the
front to ensure that the
administration of our government
radiates from the source of her
OUTSIDE A FIELD TENT
Stand SENATOR GAIUS and SENATOR FALCO wrapped to their
chins against the staggering cold.
Both men are in advanced middle age. Gaius looks like a
stoic: impassive, plainly dressed. Falco wears an
expensive fur trimmed robe with gold and asbestos.
Flanking them are CONSULS and various OFFICIALS. Lucilla
stands by Gaius and a very stately, attractive NUMIDIAN
WOMAN, MELA, Juba’s wife.
MARCUS AURELIUS (O.S.)
The link between us and Rome is a
solid chain of unbroken purpose!
For nine hundred years the Roman
Senate has stood one with the army
in dignity and resolve!
watching the troops, seeming to weigh any response with
the utmost calculation.
eyes dead-ahead on the troops.
But on this day I ask you to put
those nine centuries down — they’re
too heavy for us to carry into
battle again! So, we’ll leave them
here for the Senators to guard for
allows himself a smile as the troops grin and laugh. He
looks across at Narcissus who manages the faintest of
smiles — a very serious man…
This day I want you to fight for the
cold and the heat and the filth —
and for all those friends who will
never feel the sun on their faces
again! I want you to fight for you!
For at the moment of battle you and
you alone are Rome!
Rank after disciplined rank: not one sideways look, not
As his eyes pass from cohort to cohort.
How quickly all things sordid and
perishable in the universe
disappear. Yet throughout time the
remembrance of great deeds grows
only fresher bringing life again to
those who dare perform them…
Legate Narcissus Meridas and Legate
Quintus Clarus, I must ask you and
your legions for one more day out of
nine centuries! Will you give it to
The troops HOWL their support. Marcus pulls his sword and
half turns aiming it behind him.
There is the enemy of Rome!
Commodus steps forward to join his father and the uproar
removes his helmet as a sign of respect. Now the stoic
veneer of his face cracks into a mixture of reverence and
perhaps even love for the emperor.
taking every single bit of this in. He seems particularly
interested in Narcissus.
NARCISSUS & QUINTUS
Move their horses close and dismount.
I see the emperor’s little boy has
finally caught up with the army.
Let’s hope he doesn’t start giving