Rome, the drama series set during the fall of the Roman Republic, has finally reached the United Kingdom (which seems to have provided all of the actors), via the BBC (which provided a small part of the funding, the American HBO supplying the rest).
On the soap opera level I enjoyed episode 1, what with all the bawdiness, violence and those cheeky animated graffiti. It was clever and entertaining to bring in the second storyline with the two pleb soldiers to show us how the other half lived. But it left me thinking, “Is this all there is?” It seemed like a wasted opportunity, skewed more toward trivia than substance.
The production looks exhilaratingly authentic, right down to the small details (even if it isn’t invariably so). Obviously no expense has been spared on sets, props and costumes. So it was a shame that all that cash and care served an incoherent storyline and banal script. A A Gill in yesterday’s Sunday Times described Rome as “Gibbon written by gibbons”, which is about as apt as it’s amusing, except for the period of course.
Another piece in The Sunday Times goes some way toward explaining the incoherence. How dare the BBC condense 3 episodes into 2 without the director’s knowledge, even if it was contractually allowed to? And who does it think it’s kidding to say that British viewers don’t need the detail because they already know the background? They might have done a couple of generations ago, but not now. (For a racy and accurate account, I’d recommend Tom Holland’s Rubicon.) The result was not only confusion for the viewer, but the loss of many chances for upping the ante on satisfying tension and conflict.
These were exciting, important times, in terms of the politics and the players — an old order crumbling and a new one yet to emerge — involving vicious personal enmities and rivalries between strong, colourful characters, who all seem dismayingly cartoonish and one-dimensional in this production.
The arguments will no doubt continue to rage, and while they do people will be learning something about Roman civilization. Hurrah!
And I haven’t even mentioned the sex…