Missing your daily dose of British actors, political intrigue, and full frontal nudity now that Game of Thrones is on hiatus again? Then check out Rome, a totally awesome series that aired on HBO from 2005-2007, available on DVD and instant video.
This series, set during the collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Empire, follows both the highborn (Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, etc.) and the lowborn (two rank and file soldiers, Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus) as they deal with their changing personal and political situations.
Season One opens with Caesar’s defeat of the Gauls and then segues into his civil war with Pompey for control of the Empire. Meanwhile, comrades-in-arms Titus Pullo and Lucius Vorenus find peacetime as dangerous as wartime. Season Two takes place after Caesar’s death and focuses on the power struggle between Anthony and Octavian. Pullo and Vorenus once again find themselves caught up in major events.
At the heart of the series is the relationship between two very different men–Pullo and Vorenus. Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) is a brawler whose hobbies are drinking, wenching, and finding trouble without really trying. Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) is his complete opposite–a straight arrow family man and good citizen. As the story progresses, Vorenus’s rigid moral code ends up costing him his wife and family while Pullo discovers hidden depths of decency within himself. Throughout their personal ups and downs, the two men, initially rivals, come to depend on each other and eventually become best friends.
All of the leading actors (Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar, James Purefoy as Marc Anthony, etc.) give great performances, but for me the main stand out character was Atia of the Julii, Caesar’s niece, played by Polly Walker. Atia is a seductive manipulator who makes Cersei Lannister look like a Girl Scout den mother. She treats everyone including her own son and daughter as pawns on a chessboard in her quest for power and position. You start off hating her, but by the end of the series you can’t help but feeling a certain admiration and sympathy for her.
Another character who makes a mark on the viewer is Cleopatra played by Lyndsey Marshall. Cleopatra only appears four times in the entire two seasons, but Lyndsey Marshall makes them count, playing the Egyptian queen as a flirtatious, but intelligent political survivor who uses her personal charm to preserve her family and her country.
Of course, my very favorite character is the Newsreader, a sort of town crier who announces the latest events to the crowd in the Forum. He is played by veteran British character actor, Ian McNiece.
Because of its limited production budget, large scale, CGI-enhanced battles are mostly out of reach so the series creators’ cleverly present the aftermath of big events. For example, we aren’t shown Julius Caesar’s funeral scene. Instead, we cut to a scene of a shocked Brutus, now proclaimed a murderer by the mob, and a gloating Anthony. Likewise, we aren’t shown the Battle of Actium. Instead we catch up with the boat carrying Anthony and the survivors of his shattered army. In this manner, the series makes history we already know feel fresh and exciting.
Sadly, the wonderful soundtrack for this series is out of print. But to give you a taste, here’s Jeff Beals’ score for the opening credits: