The Arena - 1973, starring Pam Grier, Margaret Markov and Lucretia Love

"Female Gladiators fight to the death.

Inspired by the story of Spartacus, follow the adventures of a a bevy of slave girls who, upon finding themselves thrust into the gladiator ring, mount a vicious rebellion to fight their way to freedom."

Roger Corman's New Concorde company is famous for "exploitation" movies, and the 1973 offering "The Arena" would certainly fall into that category - indeed the movie's title in the US is "Naked Warriors", ensuring that there is little confusion as to what is on offer.

However, the film is superior on many levels to most of the "prison flick" genre, not only because of its subject matter, but also the performances of the two leads, Pam Grier and Margaret Markov.

"The Arena" tells the story of two women, Mamawi (Grier) and Boudica (Markov), who are from different corners of the Roman Empire (Nubia and one would presume, Britannia) but are flung together when they are captured and forced into slavery by the Legions.

The girls are made to serve the evil Governor Timarchus, who's taste for blood in the arena is matched only by his appetite for nubile slave girls, its seems. At first, the women work in "traditional" slavery, serving the men, dancing, and of course providing more intimate entertainments, if against their will. The rape of Boudica is handled well by the director, Joe D'Amato. Whilst the exploitation genre demands nudity and sex, none is depicted as gratuitous in this film. The scene is quite horrific, in fact, luridly shot and not in the least titillating.


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Things take a turn, however, when the protagonists develop feelings for two gladiators. The custom is to let the arena fighters have their pick of the women the night before a combat, and naturally, Grier and Markov are chosen to satisfy their men. Unfortunately, the budding romances are cut short, as the following day, both Gladiators are slain in the arena by the Lanista, Septimus. Distraught, Mamawi and Boudica return to the slave quarters, where they are goaded by the head slave, Livia. A fight ensues, in which all the women become involved.

The ruccus comes to the attention of Timarchus, who, having seen the women in action, decides that having female combatants in the arena would be perfect solution in flagging interest to the normal entertainments. Thus, our heroines and their companions are thrust into the dubious care of Lanista Septimus for instruction in the Gladiatorial arts.

From here, the film really comes into its own. The gladiatorial equipment used by the women is fairly accurate (Mamawi fights as a retiaria, Boudica as a Thracian), and the fight scenes well choreographed and executed. Also, the performances of the two leads are outstanding, bringing the right balance of both humour and gravitas to their roles. The supporting cast performs well, especially Lucretia Love as the wine-quaffing Dierdra.

"The Arena" is available from www.amazon.co.uk and www.amazon.com.