Variety reports that John Boorman is preparing a movie about the Roman emperor Hadrian, who reigned AD 117 to 138 and is most famous now for building a fortified wall across the northern part of England. Boorman’s films have ranged anywhere from great to awful, so it’s impossible to say what will become of this particular project. But it’s a handy excuse to post the picture above, taken when I visited Hadrian’s Wall on August 3, 1994.
Interestingly, Boorman tells Variety that Hadrian’s reign “marked both the height of the Roman empire and the beginning of its decline. It’s the irony of his rule.” That’s certainly true geographically, inasmuch as Hadrian’s predecessor, Trajan, had conquered Mesopotamia, i.e. the region now known as Iraq, whereas Hadrian pulled out of that territory — thus marking the end of Rome’s imperial expansion. Others, however, have placed the beginning of Rome’s cultural and imperial decline at a later date. For example, Anthony Mann’s The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) derives its title from the idea that everything began to go downhill with the death of Marcus Aurelius, who reigned AD 161 to 180.
For what it’s worth, it was also Hadrian who, following the Bar Kokhba revolt in the 130s, changed the name of the Holy Land from Iudaea to Syria Palaestina — or, if you will, from Judea (named after the Jews) to Palestine (named after the Philistines). So, depending on what it chooses to emphasize, a movie about his reign could resonate with modern audiences for a whole host of reasons.