07/03/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
The honeyed butterflies were too fragile; the scorpions didn't look right. But Colin Capon's locusts and cicadas were a triumph. Made of powdered sugar and gelatin, packed in cotton and flown from London to Morocco, where Gladiator was being shot, they appear on the table at Proximo's desert training camp.
In costume dramas, the clothes receive the attention. But getting the food right—or at least plausible—is important too. And that's what Capon, 55, does, whether recreating the insect snacks popular in Roman times ("So high in protein!" he exclaims) or the 19th-century feasts in films like the BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice. That means seeing that the bread is sometimes burned, the pastry lumpy and the fruit slightly leprous-looking. "There's nothing worse in a historical film," says the former Royal Air Force chef, who lives on England's south coast with his wife, Auriel, 53, "than having fruit straight from the supermarket."
Resurrecting meals of yore involves a lot of trial and error. "We'll have chickens delivered with their heads and feet on and trays of cows' feet," says Auriel. "He works through the night and then goes off, and I have to do the washing up." Just like in the Dark Ages.