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REVIEW: Way of the Warrior, Willis Museum, Basingstoke
Way of the Warrior, Willis Museum, Until January 12
AN imposing Macedonian greets you at the door of this fantastic free exhibition, already another hit for the Top of the Town’s Willis.
The downstairs gallery is currently home to iconic film costumes from countless blockbusters, accompanied by a wealth of information sure to delight any film fan or historian. And, in what’s a really outstanding added extra, there are several interactive elements, including helmets to try on and huge shields to lift, plus a children’s area with foam swords and activity pages to colour in.
Obviously, these are not actual ensembles from the period (many would never have survived, but the attention to detail in their construction is still hugely admirable and impressive. Film companies have a lot of money to blow on their costume budgets, and so these creations have had their every element researched and dissected by expert historians and costumers.
Two of the most recognisable are the US Rangers uniform from Saving Private Ryan and the ensemble from Gladiator, not the exact one worn by the film’s lead Russell Crowe, but exactly the same as the distinctive long grey-blue tunic with chain mail he donned for much of the film’s duration – including most of the battles in the arena.
The Saving Private Ryan uniform has puttees (lower leg coverings) labelled ‘Miller’, the name of the character played by Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning WW2 drama set during the Normandy landings.
Costumes from The Last Samurai include a slightly scary ninja (added to the film for dramatic effect despite their not being around during the film’s period), complete with stunt katana sword and hook weapon, plus an example of the samurai armour the New Zealand company WETA – behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the forthcoming Hobbit trilogy – constructed for Tom Cruise and his co-stars.
The diverse range also includes a North Vietnamese army uniform from We Were Warriors, Delta Force uniform from Black Hawk Down, an English Crusader from Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, a Persian charioteer from Oliver Stone’s Alexander and another striking Saxon from the Clive Owen and Keira Knightley version of King Arthur, which stands facing the cafe clad in a mixture of wolf, boar and sheep skin.
As you read, you’ll discover constantly informative nuggets such as the fact that the chainmail is actually a mix of aluminium and rubber rings and that the Samaritan cataphract scale armour from King Arthur for Galahad was created by industry legend – and Queen’s armourer - Terry English, who has worked on legendary films including Excalibur, Aliens, Highlander, Harry Potter and Dr Zhivago.
Not only is this exhibition educational, but it’s a lot of fun too. Families will have a ball trying on the fabulous bellows visored sallet (a helmet with a neck guard developed in Mid 15 th Germany) for size, or competing to see who can lift Gladiator’s Scutum Roman shield (it’s HUGE) and look the part.
Not to be missed.