The regime in Batiatus's school is tough but fair, considering that he aims to sell his trained slaves. Every day the men work at sword-play, agility, tactics and strength. For the very best students there's even the chance of being given a woman - probably their first. Spartacus proves to be a quick learner and earns the reward of Varinia (Jean Simmons). Despite expectations though he doesn't immediately ravish her ("I'm not an animal!"), which leads to the genesis of a deeper relationship between them. The easy rhythm of the school is disrupted unexpectedly when Senator Crassus visits, with lady friends who desire entertainment. When they demand two matches to the death (Batiatus has his qualms soothed with money) he trys to palm them off with his worst fighters - unfortunately they choose Spartacus and his friend Draba (Woody Strode). During the fight Draba gains the upper hand but refuses to kill his friend; instead he sacrifices himself in an attempt to kill Crassus.
The burning resentment from the fights builds in Spartacus, climaxing when he finds that Crassus has bought Varinia. Turning on his trainer he drowns him in a pot of boiling soup and causes a revolt among his fellow slaves. The school guards are no match for these trained killers, within whom Spartacus has emerged as the natural leader. Taking to the countryside the group quickly grows in size as they liberate slaves from nearby estates, looting them thoroughly at the same time. As the Roman leaders debate how to deal with this threat, the slaves reach Mt.Vesuvius and set up camp. Underestimating the slave army Rome sends a force of six cohorts and gasp in surprise as they are soundly defeated. The consequences of this are used for much political infighting in the Senate, mostly between Crassus and Gracchus (Charles Laughton).
To save his army (which is remarkably harmonious) Spartacus makes a deal with pirates to provide ships for their escape from Italy. Unfortunately after the long trek to the coast they find that the pirates have been bought off by Crassus, who wants to make a name for himself by defeating them. Facing the prospect of being trapped between two advancing armies Spartacus heads his slave troops back towards Rome and a meeting with the legions commanded by Crassus. An immense battle ensues with the odds turned in favour of the Romans by the arrival of the other two forces, leading to a total defeat for Spartacus. He is captured with the remaining slaves and marched to Rome - their numbers depleted along the way by roadside crucifixions. Crassus has triumphed, both in battle and in Rome, over his opponents; his final desire is to seduce Varinia (who has a son by Spartacus). Fortunately, while Spartacus only dreamed of freedom his son will live to have it.
The sheer scale of this film lends it an overwhelming presence -- the battles are astounding, the landscapes extensive and the theme everlasting. This is almost able to overcome all of the other weaknesses, such as over-length and dramatic flaws. Still, the acting is generally of a high standard and the scenes of fighting (both in the Senate and in the training school) are excellent. The feel of the period is induced remarkably well - it really seems that the Romans hardly regard slaves as being human at all. Add all of these components to a rousing score and you're left with a story which lifts the spirits and causes revolutions. Try and watch the restored version, particularly for the bathtime scene.