Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pulchra in Camulodunum

by Caroline Lawrence 
Back in 2007, when they were holding auditions for the Roman Mysteries TV series, lots of fans emailed me to ask how they could get a part. For the lucky ones who got chosen, it was two summers of fun, excitement and yes, some homesickness... but never to be forgotten. I went out to watch them filming the first season in Tunisia in 2007. That was when I first met the lovely Millie Binks.

In The Roman Mysteries, Millie plays Pulchra, the beautiful, snooty, upper-class daughter of a powerful patron who lives in Surrentum, Pollius Felix. (Of course in Roman times all girls had feminine versions of their father's name, so Pulchra's real name is Pollia Felicia. But her sisters are called that, too. That's why Romans often gave their daughters nicknames.) When I saw her in the The Pirates of Pompeii in the first TV series, I thought she was one of the best things in it, and I was thrilled when I found out she was going to be in The Trials of Flavia in the second series, too, (even though she doesn't appear in the book it's based on.) She was back by popular demand!

Millie Binks joined me on Friday 19 February 2010 for a charity event to save Colchester's Roman Circus.

The event was hosted by volunteers from the appeal and by the Colchester Arts Centre (thanks, guys!) who gave their time and theatre and staff for free, all to raise money to save the eight starting gates of Colchester's Hippodrome.

I began by telling kids and their parents how I got interested in the Romans and how much fun it is to do research, especially for Roma Mystery 12, The Charioteer of Delphi. That's when I realised that of all the experiences ancient Rome had to offer, this one was the only one we really cannot reproduce today. A day in the arena? Yes. A day at the Roman baths? Yes. Roman food? Yes. Boys the age of 16 riding baskets on wheels behind four ungelded stallions around a race course longer than the Grand National? No. Health and Safety would not allow it! I shared my revelations about a Day at the Circus Maximus and what it would really have been like. I talked about the size, speed, danger and popularity of chariot races. The audience and I even tried out the three different types of Roman applause: Bees, Bricks and Roof-tiles! It was fun.

Then I showed a clip from The Pirates of Pompeii. It is the scene where Pollius Felix drives Flavia, Nubia, Jonathan and Lupus to Surrentum in his chariot. You can see that they look genuinely scared and excited. The scene ends when the chariot drives into the courtyard of the Villa Limona and Pulchra runs to greet her beloved 'pater'. She is quite beastly to the four grubby friends. She ignores Nubia and claims Jonathan for her own.

After the clip, Millie Binks came on stage so that I could interview her about being in the series. Millie was born in London but has lived in Colchester all her life, so the plight of the Roman Circus was dear to her heart. She has just turned 16 and took time out from half-term revision to join us.

I began by asking Millie how she got into acting. She told us that she auditioned for the pantomime at the other theatre in Colchester and got the part. She fell in love with acting and has never looked back. She even had an agent by the time she was 10 years old.

Millie told us that after she heard about the auditions for the Roman Mysteries TV series, she read all the Roman Mysteries so far published and listened to the talking books. Millie is not just beautiful, she's very intelligent. She's studied Latin and Classical Civilization and her favourite subjects are English and Art. Yes, she's talented, too. She didn't get the part she auditioned for - Flavia - but because the producers were so impressed with her beauty and dedication, they contacted her a few months later to tell her she'd won the part of Pulchra.

Millie confessed that she doesn't like animals, which is why she didn't have a go riding in the chariot. She didn't even like picking up the dog in her scene. And when she and Flavia have a girlfight, they filmed it in a part of Tunisia called 'Snake Town'. Millie and Fran had to roll around on the ground at one point and Fran got bitten! It might not have been a snake but it left an ugly red mark on her waist for days.

Some fans from the Roman Mysteries Facebook Fan Club had submitted questions for me to ask. One of them was: What was the scariest thing you had to do? Millie says in the scene where the pirates were taking them to the Green Grotto they were walking along a real cliff. At one point she really slipped and was only saved from certain death by one of the 'pirates', who grabbed her. After the scene ended, the director said: 'That was great! Can you do that again? With the same scream?'

Another fan asked if Millie liked wearing Roman clothes and make up. Strangely they didn't let her wear much make-up (even though Roman women loved to wear powder, kohl, stibium and rouge made of wine dregs) but she loved the clothes. She even showed us the beautiful pink silk stola she wore for the girlfight scene. She said they had four versions. One clean, one a little dirty, one quite dirty and one really dirty and torn!

Emma from the Roman Mysteries Facebook Fan Club asked:
If you could go to Ostia for one day - what would you do first?
'I'd go to the baths!' said Millie.

Another fan asked what aspect of Pulchra she enjoyed playing most. Millie said the bitchiness. It's always fun to be bad!
(In reality, Millie is the least bitchy person you can imagine.)

Millie was warm, enthusiatic and gracious and spend almost an hour signing copies of books for fans. She also posed for pictures with fans and sometimes with me and Roman re-enactor Gaius from the Leg II Aug. (right) Everyone was thoroughly charmed and now Millie has a whole new fan base in Colchester.

Millie's dream is to be an artist but also an actress, hopefully on stage as well as in film. With her beauty, talent, poise and drive, I know she can do it!

Find out more about Roman Chariot Racing HERE

[The 17+ books in the Roman Mysteries series are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans, Greeks or Egyptians as a topic in Key Stages 2 and 3. Carrying on from the Roman Mysteries, the Roman Quests series set in Roman Britain launched in May 2016 with Escape from Rome.]


  1. Anonymous11:26 PM

    I love your books and I love Italy what do you think of it.

    1. I adore Italy! If you ever get a chance to go, snatch it! My fave places are Ostia, Rome, Sorrento and the Bay of Naples... :-)

  2. Anonymous2:49 PM

    You should continue thé séries, They are épic.!

  3. Anonymous9:49 PM

    I know Millie! She's a really great actress!

  4. Anonymous10:44 PM

    /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\ /\
    same she is so cool