Sunday, October 09, 2005

HBO subscribers, lend this your eyes

The one television show I watch every week is Rome, on HBO. The creators of Rome have acheived the remarkable feat of threading one grand story through the lives of generals, soldiers, nobility, and people just trying to get by in an ancient city-state whose reality is turning upside-down. The plot is centered around the rivalry between the great, but aging general Pompey, and the glorified conqueror Julius Caesar. Caesar is threatening the age-old republic and its Senate, which has claimed Pompey as its defender. Caesar's aggression is encouraged by his machiavellian lieutenant Marc Antony. Other characters include a Centurion who is torn between his loyalty to his military duties and to his republic, a young Octavian, the future emperor, and his beautiful, scheming mother. Although the story shifts from prim to plebian plotlines frequently, the realistic connections between these members of Rome's various strata keep the shifts from being jarring.

The first and foremost triumph of this series is its casting. Ciaran Hinds is a perfectly brilliant and patrician Julius Caesar. Polly Walker is at once luscious and wicked as Atia, Octavian's mother and Caesar's neice. Atia's mercenary gaze is only matched James Purefoy's menacing grin as Antony Caesar. And young Max Pirkin's brooding portrayal of Octavian as a lad is pitch-perfect.

As an enthusiast for ancient history, I can vouch for much of the accuracy of the series. The scorn held for mercantilism by the nobility, the analysis of animal entrails to foretell the future, the short swords of the legionairres, and the fascination with Greek legends are all familiar from history tomes.

Everybody knows Julius Caesar's fate. And most know what will come between Octavian and Marc Antony. But week after week, the show's characters are so well fleshed out, that one wants to know exactly how it happens, and what fate awaits the non-historical characters.

After the sword-and-sandal epics Troy and Alexander failed so miserably to live up to the promise of Gladiator, I was afraid that studios had lost their appetite for films set in ancient times. Rome shows that, when done right, there is a wealth of great stories to draw from what came before these times.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Site Meter