All the serpents come out to play
, 14 Sep 2007
The first series of Rome divided opinion .Some thought it was fantastic .I was one of them. Others thought it was a shallow , historically inaccurate, crass version of Holly-Rome. Its accuracy from a historical perspective can be debated but heres the thing about historical accuracy. As long as events ,timelines and core characters are not altered then the rest is minor detail .It would of course be preferable if everything could be accurate but then the actors would have to speak in Latin and that would alienate great swathes of the audience , never a great move for a TV series where ratings play such a huge part. Its not as if HBO and the BBC have pulled a Braveheart or U-571 and completely altered historical events to suit their dramatic agenda.
Great pains were taken to ensure as much of the series resounded with authenticity as possible . The series set comprising five acres is the largest standing set in the world to date . Ruins from Pompeii , Herculaneum and Ostia Antica to determine the correct colours of temples, streets, forums ands statues as well as the graffiti and street signs. There is no doubt that Rome has a genuinely gritty lived in realism. The costumes numbering around 4000 were specially designed , as well as the lead actors metalwork and armour ,Extras playing Roman legions were put through a two week boot camp to train like Roman soldiers and crowd extras were actual Romans so they perfectly mimicked the gait and body language of Ancient Romans , though whether they succeed is again open to conjecture. The principal actors were deliberately chosen as English so their regional accents could portray the different sections of Roma society , though these were toned down because American audiences had trouble with the stronger ones.
All this adds to the appeal and scope of this ambitious drama but it would be futile if the actual production , script and performances were not up to scratch. Thankfully series 2 taking in events from 44B.C. to 31B.C. is even better than series 1 with barely a pause for a gulp of wine amongst all the internecine rivalry , backstabbing (sometimes literal), politicking , savagery , bitchiness and carnal cavorting. It tracks the emergence of Gaius Octavian( Max Pirkis as the younger , a steely eyed Simon Woods as the older version)as a major power in Rome and his shady deals and conflicts with Marc Antony (James Purefoy) that lead eventually to war in Egypt as a banashised Marc Antony cavorts with Cleopatra (Lyndsey Marshal). Atia of the Julii (Polly Walker) sees her lover Marc Antony torn from her grasp , married to her daughter Octavia( Kerry Condon) in a political alliance arranged by the mendacious Octavian then banished , while continuing her feud with Servilia Of the Junii (Lindsey Duncan) who she kidnaps and has tortured by her henchman Timon( Lee Boardman) who, disgusted, walks out. Octavia meanwhile has fallen in love with Marcus Agrippa( Allen Leech) one of her brothers right hand men. The multiple plot strands weave their way in and out like the poisonous asp that does for Cleopatra in the series final episode.
Thats not even mentioning Titus Pullo ( Ray Stevenson) and Lucius Vorenus( Kevin Mckidd) who incidentally are based on actual characters mentioned in Caesars fifth commentaries on the Gallic war. Vorenus grieving after the deasth of his wife and the disappearance of his children after they are kidnapped by Erates Fulmen ( Lorcan Cranitch) is dragged form his fug of self pity by Marc Antony who after the death of Erastes wants him to exert control over the Aventine gangs.Pullo now married to Eirene ( Chiari Mastilla) stays with his friend but their diverging paths lead them to opposite sides of the conflict threatening to tear the empire apart, and tragedy awaits them both.
Pedantry may lead many to winge about this being wrong , that not being right that theres too much profanity and nudity but that over looks what compelling and vital drama this is. There should be more lavish historical drama like Rome , not less and if the rumours are true and there is to be no more than it is a sad day indeed .Any series that can give you scenes like the one where Pullo on the orders of Octavian goes to murder Cicero(David Bamber) and chats amiably to him while picking peaches ,which he asks for permission to pick ,before driving his sword through his neck -Kneeling down is better- is worth watching time and again. This DVD with plenty of extras and scenes cut from the TV version of course allows that luxury The abiding memory of Rome though is not the scale and spectacle , impressive though it is but, the haunted lingering close up of Atia,s face as her son parades triumphant before her and Rome . Recollection and grief have overcome paternal pride because she knows the price that has had to be paid for it. History , whether wholly accurate or not can still teach us painful lessons.
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