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Animated Asterix Films: 'Asterix in Britain'

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Introduction | Asterix the Gaul | Asterix and Cleopatra | The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
Asterix versus Cæsar | Asterix in Britain | Asterix and the Big Fight | Asterix Conquers America | Asterix and the Vikings | Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods


Asterix in Britain, known as Astérix chez les Bretons in French, is the second of the 1980s Asterix films. Unlike the previous film, this one is based on a single Asterix book, the comic of the same name. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of that, although with a few differences. This makes for a much stronger, more coherent story which, combined with the stronger animation, makes this easily the best of the Asterix films of the 1980s.

Plot

Julius Cæsar takes his army from Gaul to Britain. After a brief naval battle with itself, the army soon conquers almost all of Britain by fighting after 5pm on weekdays and during weekends. Fortunately, one village still resists. Anticlimax, Asterix's cousin, travels to Gaul to get some magic potion to help the resistance. Getafix brews him a barrel of magic potion, and Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix accompany Anticlimax back to Britain. While crossing the channel they defeat the pirates, rescuing a Phoenician trading ship, for which service they are given some herbs. They decide to travel to Anticlimax's village in Kent via Londinium, but the Romans know that they are carrying a barrel of magic potion and confiscate all barrels in Londinium, including the one containing the magic potion. Although Asterix and Obelix rescue the barrel, it is soon after destroyed. To raise the spirits of the dejected Britons, Asterix brews up a drink in the English village that is almost as effective.

Differences from the Book

Although overall the film follows the comic quite closely, there are still differences. Here are a few examples:

  • The film concentrates more on the conquest of Britain, with more invasion scenes. As part of this, Julius Cæsar has a larger role.

  • In the comic, Getafix lends Asterix the herbs. In the film he is given them by Phoenician traders, although it is never explained why the Phoenicians are so far from home in the English Channel1

  • There are more scenes with the Pirates, including a new pirate boy character. Also at the end, the Pirates do not run their ship aground but deliberately sink it instead.

  • The Beatles do not appear in the film whereas they had a cameo in the comic.

  • In the book, Britain is ruled by Governor Encyclopaedicus Britannicus. In the film, it is ruled by General Motus and his henchman, General Stratocumulus.

  • The pubkeeper in the book is called Dipsomaniax but in the film he is known as Gaulix. In the film, Gaulix also stocks Gaulish food, which is all eaten by Obelix.

  • In the film all the pub signs are in French, despite the film being set in England, because the film was made in French and then dubbed into English. In the book, they have been translated into English.

  • The major difference is that in the animated film, Dogmatix travels to Britain with Obelix whereas he stayed in the village in the comic. This is the second time in a row that Dogmatix's role has been increased.

As the film follows the plot of the book so closely, unlike the previous two films and the next three animated films, no novelisation of Asterix in Britain was created.

The Conquest of Britain

The plot of Asterix helping his British cousin against the Roman invaders is, sadly, not historically accurate. Although Julius Caesar did raid Britain in 55 and 54 BC, most of what is now England was not captured by the Romans until 43 AD, 96 years later and 87 years after Julius Caesar's assassination.

Suetonius describes Julius Cæsar's invasion of Britain with the words:

Cæsar.... invaded Britain, a hitherto unknown country, and defeated the natives, from whom he exacted a large sum of money as well as hostages for future good behaviour. He met with [a] serious reverse in Britain, when his fleet was all but destroyed by a gale.

Britain would only be conquered under Emperor Claudius in 43 AD, with Titus Flavius Vespasian acting as one of the generals and with overall command held by Aulus Plautius Silvanus. Suetonius describes Vespasian's part in the conquest:

He proceeded to Britain where he fought 30 battles, subjugated two war-like tribes, and captured more than 20 towns, besides the entire Isle of Wight.

Vespasian, having conquered the Isle of Wight, later survived a poetry reading by Emperor Nero and went on to himself become Emperor in 69 AD, despite being no relation to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Vespasian's last words, knowing that on their deaths Emperors were deified, were 'Oh dear, I think I'm turning into a god...'

However, after the invasion, parts of Scotland, Wales and Cornwall were never fully conquered and Claudius only spent 16 days in Britain, arriving after the fighting had finished. The secret weapons in the conquest of Britain were war elephants - yet no elephants appear in Asterix in Britain.

The weapon favoured by the Britons in their battles against the Romans, their vastly superior chariot, is also not present, despite Julius Cæsar himself describing their use of it in battle with the words:

The way [the Britons] fight with their chariots is this: they start by driving all over the battlefield hurling their javelins and generally the terror created by the horses and the noise of the wheels is enough to throw the enemy's ranks into disorder.... They combine the mobility of cavalry with the staying power of infantry.

The Britons' superior use of chariots in battle even defeated Julius Cæsar, who retreated before them in his first attempt to invade Britain. Yet this, the Briton's favoured method of fighting, is not mentioned in the film, in which the battle between the Romans and the Britons is portrayed quite differently.

Historical Perspective

The central plot of Asterix in Britain is the search for a barrel. However, barrels were not in general use until the 4th Century AD, and certainly were not common in the 1st Century BC. Amphorae, giant pottery vases, were used instead.

London wasn't the capital of Britain at the time of Asterix. Until its destruction by Boadicea2 in 60 AD, Camulodunum (now Colchester), was the country's capital.

General Motus at one point mentions Hadrian's Wall, which would not be built until 170 years after Asterix in Britain is set.

Asterix is correct that the Britons resisted Roman occupation. This includes King Caratacus of the Catuvellauni who fought the Romans from 43 to 51 AD, as well as Queen Boadicea of the Iceni, who rebelled in 59 - 60 AD.

What Asterix and William Shakespeare Have in Common

Both Asterix and Shakespeare seem to believe that Julius Cæsar built the Tower of London.

Richard III Act III Scene III:

Prince Edward: I do not like the Tower, of any place. Did Julius Cæsar build that place, my lord?
Buckingham: He did, my gracious lord, begin that place; Which, since, succeeding ages have re-edified.

Although it was believed in Medieval and Elizabethan times that Julius Cæsar built the Tower of London, construction of the earliest part, the White Tower, was in fact begun by William the Bastard in 1078 and it was completed under William Rufus 20 years later, with refinements and new towers built almost constantly until the Waterloo Barracks in 1845.

English Stereotypes

Asterix in Britain involves several stereotypes of British people, and Englishmen in particular. Some of the stereotypes involved are:

  • Poor food – everything is boiled and served with mint sauce.
  • Weather is either foggy or raining.
  • Everyone is obsessively polite and talks like someone in the RAF in the 1940s3.
  • Everyone drinks warm beer - this is based on the English practice of serving ale at room temperature.
  • Everyone plays cricket and attends rugby matches.
  • No one works after 5 o'clock or at weekends.
  • Pubs have early closing times.
  • Everyone drives on the 'wrong side of the road'.
  • Englishmen are obsessed with their lawns.
  • Everyone drinks tea.

Stereotypical landmarks featured in the film include:

  • The White Cliffs of Dover
  • Tower Bridge
  • Buckingham Palace4
  • Houses of Parliament and 'Big Ben'
  • The Tower of London, complete with Ravens

Review

After Asterix Versus Cæsar, Asterix In Britain is a more focussed and well-rounded film. The animation is stronger, with fewer instances of silhouettes used, and with outstanding sequences not only in the opening scene of the Roman fleet landing on British beaches, which is a joy to watch, but also the vista of the city of Londinium. It may not be historically accurate, but seeing how a Romanised version of London's famous landmarks would look is a charming addition to the film.

Despite the improvements, the film is not perfect. Impedimenta is renamed Instantmix for no apparent reason.

It is also never fully explained why Asterix and Obelix travel through Londinium. Assuming they travel North or northeast from Armorica, they would most likely land somewhere on the Dorset or Hampshire coast. They could travel easily to Kent by heading due East rather than North East to Londinium and then having to potentially travel south-east from there. However, to get to Kent, it would be easier to travel due east along the English Channel and make their way to the village by sea as they would be less likely to come across a Roman patrol. After all, Asterix and Obelix would later travel far further in a small rowing boat in both Asterix Conquers America and Asterix and the Vikings.

One of the nice touches in Asterix in Britain is that the French characters actually have French accents, whereas the British characters have highly stereoptypical 'rather, wot?' accents. This helps emphasise that the characters are of different nationalities, although the Roman characters have general English accents. It would not be until Asterix Conquers America that Roman characters would speak with Italian accents.

Connections with Other Films

  • The subsequent two films would both see characters looking identical to General Motus, the Decurion and legionaries, but these are different characters with different names.

  • Like The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, we see a broken statue similar to the Venus de Milo.

  • In Asterix in Britain, the Romans form a square and a triangle and, when they see Asterix and Obelix at the rebel village, they form a circle. The Romans formed various formations in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix.

  • When the legionaries form a triangle, the General has to run to avoid being impaled on a pilum. This would occur again in Asterix Conquers America.

  • Just like in Asterix Versus Cæsar, Dogmatix follows the magic potion when it is lost by Asterix and Obelix.

  • Londinium is the third capital city that Asterix and Obelix have visited, after Alexandria in Asterix and Cleopatra and Rome in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix and Asterix Versus Cæsar.

  • Just as the Colosseum had not been built at the time that The Twelve Tasks of Asterix or Asterix Versus Cæsar are set, so Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace were not built at the time of Roman Britain.

  • This is the first Asterix film in which Asterix and Obelix travel in a small two or three man boat rather than a larger vessel. They would later travel in small boats in Asterix Conquers America and Asterix and the Vikings.

  • This is the second film in which the magic potion has been neutralised by catapults, after Asterix and Cleopatra.

  • It is the second time Obelix eats all a restaurant's food. He ate all of Calorifix's stock in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix and eats all of Gaulix's food in Asterix in Britain.

  • The song that opens the film, 'The Lookout Is Out' by Cook Da Books, shares the same tune as 'Astérix Est Là', the song that opens Asterix Versus Cæsar, but is slower in tempo, softer and more acoustic. The lyrics are also sung in English, although they do not make any sense or appear to refer to Asterix at all.

1The Phoenicians had colonies on the Atlantic, but they were in southern Spain and Morocco. There's no record of them sailing as far north as Britain.2Also known as Boudicca to historians.3Although this works quite well after the Second World War-inspired invasion of Britain scenes.4The guards of the rebel village wear Bearskin hats just like the guards at Buckingham Palace.

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