Rome: Season One
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Rome: Season One

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There is something about a good period drama. It can take us back in time away from our modern world. One time period that has always been good for such a trip through time is the Roman Empire. There was a place with everything that makes for a good story; political intrigue, fierce warfare, family deceit and sexual excess. Come to think about it there are a lot of stories in the news paper today that contain the same aspects. When HBO aired the first season of their new series ‘Rome’ it was an amazing effort and fortunately one that worked out. What they delivered to the audience is an adult, complex drama that will pull you in almost from the start. There are a lot of characters, more plots and sub plots then can easily be listed and enough confusion that a potential view should be warned, becoming a fan of this series requires more of a commitment than the usual faire found on television. This is a series that demands your full attention every moment it is on.

The time span of the first season is roughly sometime in 52 BCE to the faithful day March 14th, 44 BCE, the well renown Ides of March. As the first episode opens Gaius Julius Caesar (Ciarán Hinds) is commanding his 13th legion after a successful eight year campaign to conquer Gaul. After the subjugation and humiliation of the King of Gaul Caesar should have been on the top of the world, instead grow schemes at home weigh heavily on his mind. Back in Rome the ruling Patricians are extremely concerned. Caesar is one of them but with his popularity with the people, the wealth of conquest and a battle hardened army at his command he could return to Rome and install himself as king. Caesar names his collaborator, Mark Antony (James Purefoy) as Tribune of the People to consolidate his influence in the Roman Senate. In the Senate Caesar’s enemies lead by Pompey the Great (Kenneth Cranham) gather together to plot the downfall of Caesar before he can make a move to completely control the government. Together with Cato the Younger (Karl Johnson), Metellus Scipio (Paul Jesson) and Marcus Tullius Cicero (David Bamber) they introduce a motion to the Senate that would demand Caesar surrender his troops or be declared an enemy of Rome.

The men are not the only ones plotting in the city of Rome. The women are in many ways far more adept at the subtle art of politics and treachery. Among the most powerful and resourceful of the Roman matrons was the nice of Caesar, Atia of the Julii (Polly Walker). She took lovers more for what political means they could achieve then their prowess in the bedroom. To her the world may have been run by men but those men where ruled by women like herself. Atia was not above using her own children, Octavia (Kerry Condon) and Gaius Octavian (Max Pirkis) to further her insidious plots. Women like Atia where more devious than the men that plotted in the dark rooms of the Senate. She had an intelligence web that would put today’s CIA to shame. Atia was willing to give young Octavia in marriage to the recently widowed Pompey just to control her uncle’s enemies. If Atia had to arrange key murders to get what she wanted it would not hinder her sleep one iota.

While previous series such as ‘I, Claudius’ concentrated mostly on the plotting within Rome the scope of this series is much grander, looking at all aspects of Roman life. For the middle and lower class points of view two characters are employed; Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). Vorenus was of the lower Plebian class and served as an officer of Caesar’s 13th Legion. He was a man committed to duty and loyal to his commander and his troops. He wanted little form life, just a chance to return to his wife Niobe (Indira Varma) and raise his family in peace. Pullo on the other hand is a common solider reprieved from a death sentence in the first episode. Pullo had a much simpler view of the world. He wanted only to kill his enemies, take their gold and women and enjoy life to the fullest. He knows that in his line of work death may come at any time so he takes in wine and women as if it was his last day on earth. Together these two characters provide a look at how the regular Roman citizens live, affected in the grand scheme of things by the decisions of the Patricians, always at their service but rarely if ever involved with the workings of the government.

This is one of the most incredibly talented casts ever assembled. One little hint here; before you watch the series take a moment to go to Wikipedia or the HBO site for Rome and become familiar with the main characters. There are so many that you can’t tell the players without a score card. Kevin McKidd basically owns his role as the stalwart Lucius Vorenus. He presents a man that has little choice in life but has to keep to his own internal sense of honor and duty. Even though he was an officer he knew his advancement was limited because he was not high born. Still, he had more honor to him than almost anyone from the exalted Senate. In perfect counter point to Vorenus is the way Ray Stevenson plays his character Pullo. He performs his character as a lusty man, hedonistic and rough. When he is asked to usher Octavian into manhood he takes on the task with gusto, helping the boy to lose his virginity and bring first blood to his sword. This fundamentally defines the world of Pullo, fight until your enemy is dead and then find a woman for sex. In many ways there was far more honesty in these two men then the Roman masters they served. At least you usually knew where you stood with them. Polly Walker has an incredible role and does it to perfection. Her Atia is beautiful; hair perfectly put up, her makeup impeccable but behind that smile is a mind that is deadly. She can bed a man one moment and offer him up as a political sacrifice the next. The only thing that matters is her sphere of power and influence.

HBO has not only become the best network around for serious drama they have lead the way with their presentation of their series on DVD. Their season box sets tend to be more expensive than most but you get a lot for the added cost. The technical specifications are near to reference quality. The anamorphic 1.78:1 video is exceptionally clear. The color balance is well done although many scenes have a bit of faded look which is actually part of the production. The Dolby 5.1 audio is perfection. During the battle scenes you are placed in the middle of the action, fighting seems to fill your living room. In quieter moments you can hear every little sound in the room. There are also enough extras to keep the die hard fan busy for many hours. Of course there is the obligatory behind the scenes featurette that HBO does so well. Added to this are two scene by scene breakdowns. The first is a detailed look at the incredibly realistic fight scene with Pullo against the gladiators. The second is the huge celebration that was Caesar’s Thump. There is an interactive section that helps to follow the many characters and an interactive guide by the historical consultant, Jonathan Stamp. This is not a family show by any means but for the adults out there it is well done, staged and acted to perfection.

By the five Furies, if I was not a gentle woman, I would have you flayed, and hung from a bracket at the door!

Posted 7/30/06

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