on 19 May 2007
This is the most wonderful television story of the ancient histories yet. Here are the reasons:
1) Unlike many prior feature films and TV series, this does not take Julius Caesar's power as given. Pharsalus, the battle which guaranteed his power, is not a footnote but a crucial historical moment which is given its proper dues here. So are many other details.
2) The deviousness and machinations which were so much a part of Republican-Imperial Rome are left intact. Although it cannot compare with "I Claudius", the series certainly does an excellent job getting close.
3) The sexual scenes and violence are not overdone. Anyone who is aware of the frescoes at Pompeii will know that sex and sexuality were important features of Roman culture. If it strikes you as a "soft porn extravaganza" (Philip Shepherd's comment) then remember that Rome was, at many times, a hard porn extravaganza. See the Penthouse film 'Caligula' and the novels of Mary Renault for other attempts at making us come out of our Victorian shell - long overdue in my opinion.
4) The acting is superb. Absolutely first class. See it for yourself.
5) Much research has clearly gone into the finer details. Notice that the ancient hairstyles are copied. The clothing also appears authentic (no off-the-rack yuppie ripoffs here). Ancient military, surgical, and cosmetic products have also been replicated well.
6) The film corrects many of our misconceptions. Though we may recall, with fondness, the fine nobility of Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra' this film provides a much-needed revision of these characters' identities. Antony is a thuggish brute and Cleopatra a coquettish nymphomaniac. There is nothing surprising here except the breathtaking audacity in making it plain. Wow!
7) The series does not fall into the trap of making the stories a purely upper-class affair. Much of it must be, if only because the ancient histories adopt the same approach. Yet a lot of the action takes place at the level of the common people. This too is quite revolutionary for a drama of this type.
8) Quite a few different scriptwriters and directors have been involved. They seem to change from episode to episode. The strength of this series clearly results from this inclusive, all-embracing approach.
If there are weaknesses, they lie in the slightly restrictive depiction of Rome as a city. At its height, Rome was a giant metropolis. This series makes it feel more like a provincial city than an imperial capital. That said, there's not much else to complain about and a huge amount to enjoy. High praise! Applause! Accolades! Bona Dea, please let the series continue right through the Julio-Claudian era - and beyond!
on 2 August 2006
"Rome" is a well-executed fictional rendition of the latter period of Julius Caesar's life, from around 52BC with the surrender of Vercingetorix ("King of all the Gauls"), up to the newly proclaimed dictator's assassination at the hands of his fellow senators in 44BC. The series takes certain historical liberties. I didn't mind them in the least, but if that sort of thing bothers you...then it will bother you.
In any case, there's much more here than a history lesson or a biography of Caesar. There are multiple, interwoven storylines, based on tensions between different (groups of) characters, and it's not just the military men who drive the action: the conflict between Attia of the Julii (Caesar's niece) and Servilia of the Junii (Brutus's mother) is like subtle, bitter warfare and drives much of the rest of the plot.
Another central strand involves the comradeship and sometime friendship between two lowly soldiers, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo. These two characters and their adventures (both military and domestic) provide some relief from the doings of all the senators and Patricians. Vorenus and Pullo bring a human (and often comic) scale to the proceedings.
The writing/storytelling is superb. Time after time, I enjoyed a particular line--often I was waiting for it, having remembered it from the BBC presentation. The acting is (mostly) hard to fault, as is the evocation of ancient Rome through the sets, costumes and rituals. One thing I will mention is that I preferred the pace of the BBC's opening episodes, which were apparently cut down from three episodes, much to director Michael Apted's dismay. The original cut (which is what's on these DVDs) has more political exposition. The BBC cut was faster-paced. I didn't know about this when I watched the DVDs, and I was puzzled as to why it didn't seem quite as compelling as the BBC broadcasts. It goes to show that more isn't always better (but maybe if you know nothing of the period, the extra background will be helpful).
Another weakness for some will be the lack of military spectacle: the story includes major battles such as Pharsalus and Thapsus, but all we really see are the aftermaths (exhausted generals, dead soldiers, dying elephants). Then again, would you prefer to hear Pompey explaining how he lost at Pharsalus, where the odds seemed overwhelmingly in his favour, or to try to glimpse events by watching thousands of choreographed, costumed extras? With "Rome", you get the former. If you want the latter, try the opening battle from the film "Gladiator".
Which brings me to one of the most memorable scenes: a small-scale but deadly gladiatorial contest involving two of the main characters. Some of the limb-chopping seems a bit over the top, but there's a sense of squalor as well as of heroism, completely unlike the arena scenes in Gladiator (which to be fair would have dated from much later, when the gladiatorial arts had been more fully developed).
What's fully developed in Rome is the characters: there isn't a single one that isn't deeply flawed, and therefore human. One of the reasons why that simple gladiator scene works so well is that you can engage with the characters as people, not just as heroic ciphers.
The documentary-style extras aren't much to write home about: I could take them or leave them. There are also episode commentaries, for those who really want to delve into the production.
Finally, the DVDs come in the best packaging ever. Cardboard was evidently not considered good enough for this series: it comes in a sturdy board box with bevelled edges, and is so seamless it took me a few moments to work out how it opened. There's even artwork hidden under the DVD trays, where you would expect to see nothing more than a piece of white card.
The great thing is, they paid just as much attention to the details of the production, as to the box.
on 26 March 2007
Rome is one of the best pieces of television you are likely to see for the next few years. It's got everything people have come to expect from an HBO drama, fantastic acting and characterisation, lavish and authentic set pieces and addictively compelling story arcs. I noticed some reviews here complain about Rome having too much violence, sex and also that it is historically inaccurate. Well, in my humble opinion all the violence and sex is there for a reason, remember that these were pretty harsh times and these vices were part of everyday life. As for it being historically inaccurate, it's a TV drama! Not a documentary! Of course the cast and crew are going to use artistic lisence! It's such a shame that Rome has went the way of the fantastic Carnivale (another HBO drama) in that it's been cancelled after the second season. It almost reduces me to tears that gems like these are cancelled while other, considerably far worse, programmes run for 10 seasons and produce countless rubbish spin-offs which also go on for years. WHEN WILL PEOPLE LEARN!? Buy this right now, at the price you really cant go wrong. Be quick to watch it though,as series 2 is going to be shown here in April (apparantly) and you'll need to be up to speed to fully appreciate it.
on 10 July 2007
It is programmes like this that restore my faith in television. Other Amazon reviewers have already stated why it is so good and they are quite right, so I would like to mention how excellent the extras on the DVD are. I have just watched the series again having selected the "All roads lead to Rome" option, this brings up un-obtrusive text on the screen that explains some of the detail, such as the significance of the various gods that are mentioned and why Caesar has his face painted red for his triumph.
Programmes like this need to be supported, otherwise we shall be doomed to soaps, game shows and reality television. For £25 you really can't go wrong.
A historian of the period mentioned, I had no real hope for it. That changed instantly, and more and more by the episode. I can truthfully say I've never seen a more accurate depiction of the time, down to the finest detail. The statesman, Cato, for example, did habitually wear black. How the character for Pompey was found, so close to the original, I just don't know. Cicero, the statesman and orator, was murdered in the way described for a speech he never delivered (but still survives), just as was predicted by Marcus Antonius. The character of Caesar (who actually did have epilepsy) was precise, as far as we can possibly tell.
I was left dazed by this work. The political problem, whether to cross the Rubicon (Roman territory)in arms, which would amount to treason, but not to would deliver Caesar into his enemies' hands, was drawn to precision. This, except that I'm long retired, I would readily have used for teaching material.
The sort of ambitious historical drama that doesn't seem to get commissioned anymore ...err except on this occasion it has and as one of the characters in "Rome" might say "Thank the Gods for that". American network HBO who have a track record of producing quality adult TV( They are the network responsible for the brilliant "Curb Your Enthusiasm") bravely made this hugely expensive series but the care , attention to detail and yes the coin thrown at it radiates from every scene.
It starts in 52 B.C. after Gaius Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) has completed his 8 year war in Gaul and is returning home .He brings with him huge amounts of loot and slaves plus thousands of battle hardened but loyal veterans. The Roman Senate terrified of Caesars burgeoning popularity vote to try him for war crimes as soon as he sets foot back in Rome while his old friend Pompey Magnus (Kenneth Cranham) ferments rebellion to try and maintain order with the typical muddle headed thinking of a politician. Two disparately different characters from Caesars army Lucius Vorenus ( Kevin Mckidd) an ultra professional ,contained prosaic character and Titus Pullo ( Ray Stevenson ) a gregarious larger than life but ill disciplined soldier are ordered to retrieve the army's stolen gold standard which they do, but they also endeavour to liberate Gaius Octavian (Max Pirkis) Caesars nephew from bandits. So they are feted by Roman high society including Octavians scheming mother Atia (Polly Walker) and Caesars new Peoples tribune Mark Antony (James Purefoy). So as the two soldiers attempt to re-adjust to civilian life, Vorenus with his family who barely recognise him and have a potentially explosive secret of their own, and Pullo to the brothels , civil war breaks out which will take Caesar and Pompey to Egypt and eventually lead to internecine conflict between families and a new order for Rome.
There is so much machiavellian plotting and political chicanery in Rome it would make a Government minister blush .What probably wouldn't make them blush are the explicit sex scene s. If this drama is anything to go on, and it was exhaustatively researched, the Romans were extraordinarily liberal when it came to sex and the language is pretty robust as well. Good for them say I. What wasn't good for them were the appallingly violent times they lived in and this is another facet of this drama that may deter the faint of heart. Some of the violent scenes could have been lifted from some horror splatter-fest but they are undeniably realistic.
While at times it lingers too long on banal talking head conversations and middle distance philosophising Rome very rarely drags. It looks amazing and the acting is first class with Hinds Caesar conveying palpable authority, while Polly Walkers Atia is a waspish vamp of mind boggling proportions. She would have a footballer's wife on toast. I also thought Max Pirkis, s Octavian a fascinating cerebral character, and a welcome antidote to Pullos and Vorenus more macho robust attributes. With notable supporting roles for Lorcan Cranitch as a rapacious money lender and ex "Coronation Street" villain Lee Boardman as one of Atias henchmen Rome tells a much told tale with acumen and no little flair. And tantalisingly there is so much more of this fascinating story still to be acquainted with. Rome is most definitely worth re-visiting.
on 30 April 2007
I first took this out at the video store, I wanted to try one but the young assistant insisted I take the first two, "after you see the first, you're not going to stop watching," he said. He was absolutely right. This breathtakingly sumptuous production (apparently one of the most expensive joint productions between HBO and BBC ever) is addictive viewing. At the end you're left frustrated because nothing for a long time is going to match up to this. I've since ordered the box set for my daughter. Don't waste your time watching any other drivel ... give yourself a treat and invest in this.
on 23 February 2006
Full marks for this production . Most would agree this was never going to be on the scale of Ridley Scotts - Gladiator, instead we had what I consider to be an 'as was' view of Rome, and rightly so, no apologies for frankness . The casting was particularly good, Cieran Hinds as Julius Caeser was masterful (from an already quality actor)as a depiction, whilst Keven McKidd's portrayal of the ex-soldier/good citizen ranks as some of the most convincing for historic drama seen yet . As someone who is ex-military himself I found the brotherhood of feeling within the army (and particulary with between Lucious ad Titus) to be very refreshing in the bland political times we live through .
I eagerly await the second series - but please HBO - get this DVD of the first series released SOON .
on 17 July 2007
I got this box set of Rome Season 1 without any preconceptions. I've always had a fascination for the Roman Empire and have read both fictional and factual histories based on the Romans. And of course I loved the film Gladiator, even if the ending was a bit depressing. But a TV series on ancient Rome?...this could be really bad.
Given that this is an HBO production I had high hopes of great production values and the series certainly does not disappoint. Great visuals, stunning sets, believable and seemingly authentic little details. Having said that I understand that some of the smaller historic details are questionable - though this is not ever noticeable to me, perhaps because the drama is so great. You really do feel like you are watching a dramatic story from ancient history, which is brilliant.
The story itself revolves around 2 central characters who by some quirk of fate (or perhaps the whimsy of the Roman gods) are deeply involved in the political and military highlights of the era. Julius Caesar, Pompey, military conquest, political treachery, civil war. The great backdrops (e.g. the senate, the military camp etc) with seemingly endless extras lend weight to the depiction of these events (arguments in the senate, discussions by Caesar with his officers at the military camp etc), but the acting and stories themselves are also top notch.
In addition to these historically important events the series makes the whole thing personal by including some great subplots for our 2 heroes. Their families, their careers, their hopes and disappointments. Both these guys have their demons, and watching them develop their friendship in the midst of their personal strife is really gripping viewing. And there are some hilariously funny moments. Again the backdrops to all this are superb - the slums of Rome, Forts in Egypt etc.
Overall the series portrays the social values (including a lack of taboo on nudity so beware), religious beliefs, murky underworld, criminals, soldiers, politicians - all of which are intertwined and probably not so different from today if you're a cynic like me.
To summarise I would say that this is great drama, with some great action (though never any big pitched battles that I was always hoping for), some great humour and some exciting storylines - and on top of that many of the characters in the series really existed and the broad brushstrokes of their lives are shown accurately.
I highly recommend this series, I have watched it twice and plan to again before series 2 which I have on preorder (missed half of series 2 shown on BBC darn it). As I said the only downside was lack of big pitched battles - well I hear there is a corker in series 2!
Edit: I would just like to add - the extras on the DVDs are very good. Some fun commentaries by the actors (and some dull ones by directors!), together with a nifty option to have historical facts show up on screen in context of what's happening...this was not at all intrusive (the facts are in little boxes placed out of the way of the action) and I learnt a few things I did not already know.
on 16 November 2006
Where to start? Some of the more verbose reviews that I have read seem to deem this series overly sensational and lewd. Now I'm not exactly coy when it comes to my viewing but I agree that in some instances this is true. I was surprised to find Octavia and Servilla having a lesbian affair at one point but to be honest it's probably not all that far from possible - most scholars agree (and I am one) that homosexuality was far more frequent than today; and if not accepted, turned a blind eye on most occasions. Sex was also power for those who wished to use it and had far fewer taboos than we place upon it today.
As far as the gratuitous violence, I have to disagree. I have become fed up of films and programmes claiming to be historically accurate that portray nothing of the horror and brutality of war and bloodshed. Finally we have a series that without too much Tarrantino-esqe gratuity, but which shows war as it really was. Horrifying. I was stunned the first time I saw someone's knee hacked through with a backwards blow from a gladius but then realised that this is real war in a military society - eye to eye and do whatever it takes to take the other man down. Maybe some contemporary world leaders could learn a thing or two about what declaring war actually means for the legionaries involved.
As far as the story goes, I agree that artistic licence was taken at points - Cleopatra's portrayal was surprising but there's little to suggest it couldn't be true, as much as to say it's ridiculous. I also take issue with the notion she was portrayed as "weak" and snivelling. She is a shrewd and ruthless woman prepared to take whatever steps necessary, just like many of the strong female characters in this series. I have a feeling this will come out properly in season 2. (Anyone for Anthony and Cleopatra?)
Anyway, enough rattling on - suffice to say that I thought the colour and accuracy of Roman life was superb, if a touch overdone. The women being the true power in Rome was portrayed with genius if a little off the documented facts, though all films/series have to compromise to make everything work with a limited cast rather than an entire city.
If the (mostly brief) nudety scenes and horrific, but accurate snippets of violence offend you then can I please point out the certificate rating and viewing advice provided by the censor's office. It's an 18 for a reason.