ROMANS have always made for good TV (ITV’s awful Plebs withstanding). Think the sex and sandals silliness of Rome or Frankie Howerd’s endless entendres in Up Pompeii and there’s usually plenty to enjoy.
Sky’s new historical epic Britannia is no different, and with its irresistible combination of laughs
(both intentional and unintentional) and violence (and a fair dose of flesh) its depiction of the Roman Empire differs little from a time when names like Ludicrus Sextus and Ammonia were deemed hilarious.
What is new about Britannia is its depiction of us. According to creator Jez Butterworth, our ancient forefathers were a drug-crazed lot, fond of a fight and desperate to stay out of a modern Europe, with its ridiculous notions of bureaucracy, laws and progress. Sound familiar?
We pick up the action (and there is a lot of action) in
AD 43 as David Morrissey’s Aulus Plautius is preparing to invade Kent, following a couple of unsuccessful sorties by Julius Ceaser. Morrissey is in his element here recalling his scene-stealing turn as the Governor in The Walking Dead as he quaffs wine and swirls his cloak.
All that is missing is a puff of smoke and a dastardly laugh.
The Brits meanwhile are mired in superstition and celebrating the summer solstice in a scene which could be taken from footage of Glastonbury’s Lost Vagueness field.
When the Romans turn up it’s hard not to see this as a hippies vs The Man battle and the constant allusions to the 1960s Summer of Love (folk warbler Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man is the show’s soundtrack) only increase the trippy atmosphere of Butterwoth’s creation, which comes complete with dream sequences and journeys to the underworld courtesy of Nikolaj Lie Kaas’ outcast druid.
Of course many frustrated historians have been busy all week pointing out the glaring inaccuracies of every line but like its obvious big brother, Game of Thrones, it’s best just to suspend all notions of reality and just go with the fact that Macenzie Crook is playing some sort of undead shaman and yes, that guy who’s a eunuch is the one from Green Wing.
Enjoy the trip.