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Mary Beard short films with the University of Cambridge aim to inspire the study of classics

Professor Dame Mary Beard has made a series of short films with the University of Cambridge and a host of celebrities to help broaden access to classics by making the subject accessible to all children.

A still from Free Speech –What’s It All About? Picture: Lion Television
A still from Free Speech –What’s It All About? Picture: Lion Television

Classics Shorts with Mary Beard, which is produced by Lion Television, will introduce children between the ages of 11 to 14 years old to a range of classical topics.

The films will explore modern-day themes with a classical spin, showing the relevance of classics in the present day.

The five films, entitled Free Speech – What’s It All About?, How Do You Change Someone’s Mind?, How Do You Want To Be Seen?, Why Is Drama Important? and Do We Need Heroes? are available on the University of Cambridge’s website.

Teaching materials and resources will also be available to accompany the films and will support teachers to deliver the subject to students.

The 10-minute films will feature a different celebrity who will share their expertise and opinions on the themes.

Children will share their views on what the topics mean to them, then Mary and experts from Cambridge’s Faculty of Classics will explore the themes through the lens of the ancient world, explaining the influence of Classics in the present day.

Prof Beard, a world-renowned classicist and scholar, said: “It’s been great to have an opportunity to offer kids (and I hope some grown-ups) a modern take on some classical themes. It’s been a collaborative enterprise between academics, actors, activists, comedians, writers, teachers – and a group of really inspiring school students.

“I hope the films play a part in giving an exciting vision of the ancient world to a new audience, and engage with all kinds of different parts of the school curriculum... for me, I don’t think I will ever forget walking through the streets with a life-size, cardboard cutout of Socrates under my arm!”

Dame Mary Beard spray painting in How Do You Change Someone’s Mind? Picture: Lion Television
Dame Mary Beard spray painting in How Do You Change Someone’s Mind? Picture: Lion Television

The series will feature Oscar-winning actor Rachel Weisz on the importance of drama and how Ancient Greek theatre continues to influence theatre today.

Creator of TV’s Taskmaster and former classics student at the University of Cambridge, comedian Alex Horne will attempt some tricky techniques for improving his public speaking, courtesy of the ancient Romans.

Comedian Rosie Jones will share her views on the complicated relationship between comedy and freedom of expression in a film

that explores the censorship of philosopher Socrates 2,000 years ago.

Best-selling author and Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman will share her views on classical heroes.

And the series will explore self-image from historical images of Roman emperors in their quest for youth and power, to modern-day selfies and filters.

Professor James Warren, chair of the Faculty Board of Classics, said: “The faculty is excited to be able to create these films as a resource for schools to give more young people the opportunity to discover the ancient world in an exciting and relevant way. We know that not all students get to hear about classics during the course of their school studies, and we want to show them that the ancient world can be an exciting way to explore different topics and themes that they are already engaging with.”

Prof Beard with comedian Rosie Jones Picture: Lion Television
Prof Beard with comedian Rosie Jones Picture: Lion Television

Richard Bradley, executive producer for Lion TV, said: “We are delighted to have had the chance to work with Mary Beard and Cambridge University on these films. They may be short but the subjects they cover – free speech, democracy, role of heroes and drama – are as big as they come. We hope they are accessible and will help curious teenagers of all backgrounds think about these subjects and get excited about the importance of the classics.”

Classics Shorts with Mary Beard was commissioned by the Faculty of Classics, the University of Cambridge and produced by Lion Television. Sarah Sarkhel and Richard Bradley executive produce for Lion Television and the series producer is Guilia Clark.

The films are available to watch at cam.ac.uk/classics-shorts-with-mary-beard.

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