The book club I'm in discussed Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky at the last meeting. I was still reading, so hadn't yet happened upon this scene towards the end of the first part 'Storm in June'.
Father Phillipe Pericand is a young Catholic Priest charged with escorting a group of orphans out of Paris to the countryside on the eve of the German occupation of France in WWII. They have stopped for the night to camp in a field. Nearby is a grand looking house, about which some of the older boys avaricely express some curiosity. Phillipe tries to dissuade them from breaking in, but during the night they take matters into their own hands.
The moon lit up the front of the house. One of the boys was pushing the shutter, forcing it open. Before Philippe could shout at them to stop, a stone shattered inside the window and there was a rain of glass. The boys as lithe as cats, leapt inside.
'What are you doing here?' said the priest.
He heard a noise behind him and turned round; another boy was in the room, standing right behind him; he too was about seventeen or eighteen. He had thin, contemptuous lips and his yellowish face looked wild, as if he were possessed.
Philippe would have proven the stronger in spite of everything but they hit him on the head with a pedestal table with bronze legs; he fell down and as he fell he heard one of the boys run to the window and whistle. He saw nothing else: not the twenty-eight teenagers suddenly waking up, running across the lawn, climbing through the window; not the rush towards the delicate furniture that was being ripped apart and thrown out on to the grass.
They felt a terrifying kind of joy. Dragging Philippe by the feet, they threw him out of the window, so he fell heavily onto the lawn. At the edge of the lake, they swung him like a bundle.
Finally he raised both arms, put them in front of his face, and the boys saw him sink straight down, in his black cassock. He hadn't drowned: he'd got trapped in the mud. And that was how he died, in water up to his waist, head thrown back, one eye gouged out by a stone.
It's probably not too much of a spoiler to report on the death of Julius Caesar in Rome:
What distinguishes this particular depiction of Julius Caesar's murder by the senate, however is the way that in the BBC/HBO production it's intercut with the death of a Roman woman, Niobe. Niobe is the wife of Vorenus, formerly a soldier in Caesar's army and whom Caesar has since appointed a senator.
The importance of this distinction is commented upon in another YouTube video that takes issue with the editing of the above scene of Caesar's murder:
Watching these scenes as they were originally juxtaposed, I thought about some comments made in a paper delivered by Georgina Born in response to Frederic Jameson's charge that historical dramas were little more than an exercise in nostalgia. Born countered that in fact contemporary interpretations of historical texts offer insights into contemporary issues and values. I forget which particular BBC adaptation Born referred to, but I do recall she showed a particularly dark scene of what was effectively domestic violence. It may well not have been construed in those terms when the original novel was published, however, it is that interpretation which was invited by the BBC adaptation.
In Rome then, the witnessing of Caesar's death alongside that of Niobe, is a contemporary questioning of the prominence that has been historically afforded the lives and deaths of Great Men to the detriment of those of women in the same societies. I think it's important too that Vorenus is a character whom we are invited to admire: we think of him as an extraordinarily ethical man, who has struggled with his conscience on many occasions as he has risen through the ranks of society. On this occasion, Niobe's death is a tragedy much greater than Caesar's because it is an indirect and unintended consequence of a questionable war.
Contemporary resonances indeed.