I thought Rome Season 1 was excellent. Season 2 I didn't think was as enthralling, but when you come from 'excellent', the next place down is 'very, very good' and that's what this is.
Others have expounded on inaccuracies as to the history. As a student of history myself, I can understand the frustration. However, these things do not bother me generally as I watch series like these to escape. All I generally ask is that I be entertained. (NOTE: I admit that my 'laidbackness' did not extend to the massacred 'Troy' which was so very inaccurate in so many particulars and not even that entertaining).
So that entire paragraph above was meant to convey the following: Put aside your history books, forget the 'true' story and allow yourself to be immersed in the grandeur and sumptiousness that is this BBC/HBO production.
I believe that you will love many of the characters (notably Atia) - and love to hate others (notably Atia). You will be sad and happy and yes - horrified at times, but you will not say that you were not invested in some measure. Note that even those not as enamoured of the series as I, watched every episode AND took the time out to write reviews. That must tell you something. Rome is something to witness and talk about, whatever your view.
WARNING: If the DVD is the first time you are watching this, clear hours of your day. You will be captivated in one way or another and that smell wafting through your living room will be the forgotten pot on your stove.
I highly recommend this series and enthusiastically give it 5 stars (wish there were 6).
on May 22, 2007
Rome. Once the center of power for most of Europe, the coast of North Africa and portions of the Middle East for several centuries until its collapse in 476 C.E., continues to leave its mark on the modern world; but what of the people that lived there when Rome ceased being a Republic beginning in 48 B.C.E. to become, instead, the empire that ruled for over 5 centuries? Yes, we have studied their surviving writings, their surviving buildings & infrastructure, as well as their impact upon societies; but as individuals who lived their lives there from day to day, few have grasped what their lives may have been like. Yes, there have been various films, such as "Spartacus" (1960) and various films that focused more on Christian themes within the Roman Empire; but these films typically portray Romans negatively rather than focusing on the Romans themselves and their lives in the capital.
In 2005, a new television series aired on HBO with the simple name "Rome". It's second season continued in 2007. Unlike past negative portrayals of ancient Rome, this fictional series (based on factual events) focuses on the lives of various individuals, including Julius Caesar's former mistress Servilia (Lindsay Duncan); the power-hungry Atia (Polly Walker), who was related to Caesar; Atia's son Gaius Octavian (Max Pirkis as a teenager, Simon Woods as a young man); Octavian's friend & general Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (Allen Leech), who falls in love with Octavian's sister Octavia (Kerry Condon); Mark Antony (James Purefoy), who is forced to marry Octavia to keep peace with Octavian; Servilia's son Marcus Junius Brutus (Tobias Menzies); Cleopatra (Lyndsey Marshal); Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero (David Bamber); and two Roman soldiers: Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). Lucius Veronus, still the tragic character wanted only to provide for his wife Niobe (Indira Varma), who died in the first season, and their children, who were enslaved. Having served in the military under Mark Antony and briefly as a senator, he is given control over Rome's commercial district, but eventually rejoins the army after being rejected by his children (after rescuing them from slavery) and follows Mark Antony to Egypt. Lucius Veronus often helps his less educated friend Titus Pullo, who has a huge temper and often uses physical aggression as a means to solve disputes. Servilia, after being spurned by Julius Caesar in the first season and encouraged her son Brutus to murder him, must instead mourn Brutus' eventual death. For, it was after Caesar's death, that Octavian is declared his son and heir, which he takes rather seriously to the chagrin of Mark Antony and Atia, his lover. Atia (highly fictionalized in the series), still the egocentric and wanton manipulator, becomes very attached to Mark Antony; but that relationship is not to last, which may fulfill a curse from her bitter enemy Servilia.
With frequent sexual intrigue and nudity, "Rome" is a series that will never be seen on network television; but it did find a very good home on HBO. With its very interesting portrayal of life in ancient Rome from many perspectives, wonderful dialog, brilliant acting, beautiful cinematography and engaging characters, I rate "Rome-The Complete Second Season" with a resounding 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it.
As the second, and final, season of HBO's lavishly produced Rome begins, saying that things aren't good is saying it quite lightly. Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) is dead, Mark Antony (James Purefoy) prepares to go to war with Brutus (Tobias Menzies), and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) mourns his dead wife (Indira Varma) as the fate of his children hang in the balance. Later on, alliances are broken, re-forged, and broken again, as the series propels itself through a breakneck pace throughout these ten episodes that find Vorenus and Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) in new business situations, Atia (Polly Walker) and Servilia (Lindsay Duncan) schemeing against each other to new heights, Octavian (played by Max Pirkis in his young days, and later by Simon Woods) rising to power and seemingly defying everyone, and concluding in the blood stained sand of Egypt as Antony and Cleopatra (Lyndsay Marshall) make a stand against Octavian, and Vorenus helps Pullo unite him with the child he never knew he had. What makes Rome so good are the performances from everyone involved. Not only are McKidd and Stevenson perfect together, but James Purefoy steals the entire show with his swaggery and arrogant performance as the womanizing, battle hungry, and life loving Mark Antony. The production values, which have always been a standout of the series, are still lavishly re-created, and the violence is still incredibly graphic and blood curdling at spots. All in all, while the usual twelve episodes would have been more than welcome instead of ten, the final season of Rome is a brilliantly realized vision of the rise and fall of the powerful empire, and the performances from all involved are worth the price of admission alone. If you missed this underrated series when it originally ran on HBO, now has never been a better time to take a trip to Rome.
First, I have to confess that I don't own nor do I currently intend to purchase the DVD set for either season of Rome. I have, however, been a loyal viewer of Rome ever since it's debut up until the recent series finale. It's rare that I'll religiously watch a drama such as this while it's on TV, as I usually prefer to wait for the release of the DVDs so I can watch an entire season in a short period of time - the fact that I made an exception for Rome is a tribute to this excellent HBO series.
Season II (naturally) begins where Season 1 left off - Caesar is dead and Octavian (Caesar's nephew), Mark Antony, and Brutus (who is allied with the majority of the Senate) become embroiled in a struggle for power. Like Season I, the story is told primarily from the perspective of two Roman soldiers - Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, and like Season I these two characters are the real stars of the show. Both are great characters, and the way they are utilized by Rome's creators to bridge the gap between ruling class and commoner is simply brilliant. In Season II, the paths of Vorenus and Pullo diverge from those of Octavian and Mark Antony from time to time, but they cross just often enough to pull everything together into a cohesive and well told story. I won't go into any more detail as to the adventures these two undergo in Season II as that would spoil the enjoyment, but suffice to say if you thought they were great characters in Season I you won't be disappointed.
Sure, Rome is a bit sensationalized and has lots of sex and violence, but it offers much more than that. It has a complex storyline rife with political struggles, betrayal, family disputes, war, and yes, sex and violence. It's also visually stunning (it's little wonder the show was so expensive to produce), and it's packed with excellent, memorable characters. Do not be led to believe that the prevalence of sex and violence makes this a brainless, plotless, predictable action flick, because it is much more than that - it's truly a great and well-told story. Sure it's a little over-dramatized at times and it isn't perfectly historically accurate, but at the end of the day this is dramatic television meant to succeed commercially with an American audience, so this is to be expected.
I'll admit I was disappointed to learn that Season 2 would wrap up the highly enjoyable Rome series. I'll miss it. On the other hand, Rome tells a great story and it tells it well, and it then it ends - and that can be a good thing. Too many good television series continue to run long past the point where the story has been told and simply fade into mediocrity (cough Sopranos cough). At least Rome isn't doing that. But the fact that I won't be able to watch any new episodes of Rome makes me envy those of you who are new to this excellent series that much more.
In short - if you enjoyed Season I, the Series is definitely worth continuing. If you haven't seen Season I but enjoy good drama and aren't offended by a little sex and violence, Rome is one of a very small number of television series I'd call an absolute "must see". The DVDs are a bit pricey, but they are in my opinion worth purchasing for those who didn't catch the Series on HBO.
on August 27, 2007
This review covers both seasons of "Rome," so please excuse the long read, as well as any redundancy.
First off I have to say that I absolutely loved this series, and I so wanted to give it five stars. However, there are some rather significant historical caveats that force me to give it only four (in all honesty I'd give it four and a half if that were possible). What I appreciate is that the creators acknowledged where they deviated from history, and that their intent was to create an accurate "feel" for what life in Rome was like for all social classes. In this regard they excelled; filming in Rome itself and casting actual Romans as extras was genius. One gets to see how the Noble Romans, plebeians, and even slaves lived. I got a real feel as to how the social orders interacted with each other, and just how human life was valued (or in many cases devalued).
The real issue I had with the series is that some characters were well overplayed, while others of great historical significance were either underplayed, or else left out completely. Foremost I thought that Octavian's mother Atia was way overdone and by far the most dramatized. The show's creators even admitted that the woman portrayed in the series bore little, if any, resemblance to the historical Atia Balba. In fact, she was said to be more inspired by Mark Antony's notoriously scheming wife Fulvia, who is completely absent from the series. I also felt that they tried to portray Atia similarly (albeit probably inadvertently) to Livia's portrayal in the Masterpiece Theater series, "I, Claudius." Of course I was then surprised when we do get to see Livia in "Rome," as she comes across as quite meek and unassuming. That aside, my biggest complaint with so much time being devoted to Atia's character, at the expense of others, is the fact that historically Atia Balba died in 43 B.C., just 18 months after Julius Caesar. She had been dead for more than a decade by the time of Octavian's victory over Antony and Cleopatra. On the other hand, Atia's second husband, Lucius Marcius Phillipus was alive and well and in fact played a very important role as one of his stepson's advisors until well after Octavian's rise to Emperor. Phillipus is never mentioned in the series. Of those neglected, I felt the most significant was Marcus Agrippa. The historical Agrippa was a decisive military genius, both on land and sea. His character comes across as rather awkward, and it is only in passing that he was the one who defeated Antony at Actium. There is also no historical basis for his affair with Octavian's sister, Octavia; though it is interesting to note that Agrippa did in fact later marry Octavian's daughter, Julia.
The other issue that may come across as confusing is the perceived time between events, and the lack of aging in most characters. In Series One, Vorenus' eldest daughter is shown to be roughly the same age as Octavian. While actors change to account of Octavian's age, the same actress plays Vorena throughout the series. She is still seen as a young teen at the end of the series, even though she would actually be in her early thirties. Lucius and Vorena the Younger would both be in their twenties; much older than they are shown. Caesarian is also shown to still be a young boy, when historically he was seventeen when Antony and Cleopatra were defeated. Events (particularly in Season Two) give the appearance of taking no more than a few years to complete. Octavian acknowledges his age being nineteen when he petitions for the Consul's chair, and one feels that he's little older at the series' end; when in fact Octavian was thirty-two by the time the Battle of Actium took place. Twenty-one years from the series beginning to end does little to age any of the characters.
Make no mistake, these complaints I have do not take away from the overall "feel" of the story. "Rome" is still one of my all-time favorite series, and I highly recommend it! As an author of historical novels myself, I felt the need to point out where this series dramatized certain characters and events, so that the viewer knows what is real and what is not. Ironically, what is real is often more far-fetched sounding than what is not. The only other thing that was regrettable, though understandable, was the lack of battle scenes. I had hoped to see how this show would recreate the Battle of Actium. However, given the series' already astronomical costs, it is understandable that battles were kept to a minimum. I will say that the ones they did show were probably the most accurate portrayals of legionary close-combat ever shown on film. The battle formations and tactics were correct, to include the "passage-of-lines" where Roman soldiers in subsequent ranks blitz forward to relieve those on the front line every few minutes. Armor and uniforms were also correct for the time period. If one looks closely, you will also see the evolution of legionary armor; throughout most of the series they are accurately shown wearing mail, yet towards the end Octavian's soldiers are depicted wearing the more famous segmented plate armor (commonly referred to as the lorica segmentata). The one tactic I have yet to see though is the "javelin storm" that the Roman legions would unleash just before closing with their enemy; however, I do not know if this was a common tactic during this time frame or if it became more used during the early Empire.
Of interesting note: Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo were based on real people; both are mentioned in Caesar's Gallic Commentaries. The difference being that historically both men were First Cohort Centurions, not just Vorenus. Both men were also part of Legion XI, not Legion XIII. The account of Pullo, and subsequently Vorenus, charging the Nervii alone is partially correct. Caesar's account gives the impression that the men were friends who shared a rivalry and tried to outdo each other in individual feats of valor. Their depictions after the Gallic Wars are entirely fictionalized.
In the end, "Rome" is one of, if not the best series ever compiled about the Roman Republic / Empire. I hope that fans of this series will be drawn into reading about the historical personas of those portrayed on film. "Rome" gives the viewer a breathtaking visual foundation with which they can build upon by further reading. On that note, the violence and sexual encounters (of which there are plenty) in this series are extremely graphic, yet one gets the feel that they are this way for authenticity, rather than "shock value." Anyone with even a passing interest in Roman history needs to watch this series.
on May 28, 2007
"Rome" is one of the finest achievements in the world of visual storytelling. The series incorporates real world history (with plenty of dramatic license), all the aspects of epic film making, brilliant acting and solid writing. The sets and costumes are absolutely beautiful and serve their purpose in immersing the audience into the surroundings of the city of Rome at the time of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.
The male characters are rendered powerfully by such talented actors as Ciaran Hinds (Julius Caesar), James Purefoy (Marc Antony), Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus) and Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo). The women of "Rome" are equally impressive, with Polly Walker leading the way in the role of Atia of the Julii and Kerry Condon portraying her daughter, Octavia. Max Pirkis (Gaius Octavian) and the mesmerizing Lyndsey Marshal (Cleopatra) are also worthy of mention.
This is not a series intended to be viewed by children as there are many sexual references as well as graphic language and violence. These elements generally help to make the story seem more real. However, the sex scenes appear gratuitous at times.
on June 29, 2007
This is definitely one of the best shows of recent years. The production reportedly topped $100mil and it definitely shows. The acting is first class, as is the writing and cinematography. HBO worked in conjunction with the BBC to ensure the historical validity of all its sets and it definitely pays off.
I would highly recommend this to anyone -- the only downside is that you'll be sad when it's over.
on August 28, 2007
I was very disappointed with the second series of Rome. I loved the first: found it completely enthralling, loved the way they worked in the double plots of the major political narrative and the everyman story of Pullo and Vorenus. And it looks great. I'm a classicist, but I didn't care about the various historical innaccuracies. It's TV, not a text-book. And it caught something convincing about Roman culture -- the violence, the honour, the sex, the guilt. But I have been really disappointed with the second series. What's missing? Well, here's a list:
--The first series all had enormous momentum, building up to two inevitable but terribly upsetting deaths: J. Caesar, and Vorenus' wife. The momentum is gone in the second series. Of course, we're still building up to something -- the new Augustan age. But it djust doesn't have that feeling of something important about to happen.
--I think it was a mistake to change actors for Octavian/. The new one is good, and obviously they had to mark a change. But the old one was a more complex character.
--I The representation of slavery is far less convincing in the second series. In the first, we were shown very clearly that slaves really are not free; they get shut up in cages and whipped. Pullo is making a big mistake in thinking that a slave girl who sleeps with him might be doing so of her own free will. Slaves are never free. In the second series, all that seems to have been forgotten. Slavery means that there is always a cute girl hanging around to have sex with you. Vorenus' daughteris annoyed with Vorenus, but she doesn't seem damaged by her experiences. The relationship between Pullo and Eirene is, in my opinion, entirely implausible. Why does she klove him or forgive him? We are never shown any reason. This leaves a big gap in the whole non-political plot of the second series. Vorenus' troubles with his children iare just not as interesting or convincing as his troubles with his wife in the first series. And the Vorenus/Pullo relationship has lost its spark, now they are no longer fighting together.
--I had to fast forward some of hte first series, for the violence. But I had to do that even more with the second. It's just too much. And it seems as if the brutality is substituting for real character development.
--Why don't people kill themselves in Rome? What happened to "playing hte Roman" and falling on one's sword? I liked the old-Etonian depiction of Brutus and Cassius; but surely at least one of them could have killed themselves...
--I thought it was a mistake to entwine the narratives quite so closely. The death of Cicero was certainly not accurate historically, which doesn't matter; but more importantly, it was implausible in the terms of the series itself. Pullo's dialogue in that scene range entirely false: surely Pullo cares about his honour and immortality, not just saving his life! This just doidn't fit the character. They might as well have done the scene from Plutarch. Here as elsewhere, I felt that the series-two writers were trying too hard to turn Rome into The Sopranos -- a more successful series, not necessarily a better one. Yes, Rome was full of gansters and gangster molls. But I missed the sense of political and emotional complexity, which hte first series had to a much greater extent.
on August 12, 2007
The second and concluding season of this spectacular television series duplicates the success of the first. What the writers have produced here, as in Season One, is less a strict history lecture than a history play, a contemporary British equivalent of one of Shakespeare's favored genres. One doesn't look in such a genre, then or now, for literal accuracy to actual history in all details as a primary determinant of worth. Instead, the following of history's broad outlines, coupled with deliberate fiction, to reveal the workings of human nature, both in the political sphere and private life, and so cleverly and disturbingly to confront modern viewers with shocks of recognition seems to be the point.
The acting, even in the absence of the magnificent Caesar of Ciaran Hinds, remains of the highest quality; the cast features not a single weak link. As before, costumes and sets are a treat for the eyes, and the TV dialogue is of greater skill than might be found in any ten widely-praised off-Broadway plays put together.
The episodes in Season Two center on the political rise of Rome's first emperor, Augustus Caesar, and the concurrent decline of Antony and Cleopatra. The world of this history play thematically is one given over largely, then, to the World vs. the Flesh. Shrewd Augustus is mostly a "cold boy" whereas Antony devolves into a stinking decadent. These lopsided alternatives, amusingly enough, have strikingly recognizable equivalents in the secular, postmodern West. The more fully developed human beings among the characters are several from private life, principally Vorenus and his comrade Pullio, who, at least in their attitudes toward their own children, foreshadow a later world of more delicate conscience than the Roman.
on January 27, 2008
Rome is no doubt the most adult mainstream television series to air. Nobody could have predicted that debauchery could look so respectable. Forget good guys versus bad guys. There are no good people in Rome. Even the most well respected citizen should be seen at least contemplating murder or an animal sacrifice to one of the gods.
Where movies like "Gladiator" would have even the lowest dregs of society looking splendorous for the big screen, the producers of Rome have correctly decided that these ancient civilizations are not really that civil, especially if put in the context that these people where around over a thousand years before the Dark Ages.
It is a pessimistic excess orientation coupled with screenwriters hanging pairs of brass ones, makes this show pay off in aces. Although the cast look human, their all too manifest instincts to copulate uncontrollably and destroy lives randomly sees them pushed back somewhat along the primordial scale, which is uncanny to see, when you put excellent actors and a script that isn't afraid to bare it all, with a few severed limbs and few gallons of blood to boot.
In Season 1 it was the dawn of the rise of the warrior and slave while the `Golden Age' of Rome had seen its last philosopher now taking backhanders, the senate marble floor looking as worn as the legions returning home after being sent out on a near decade long mission to defeat the Gauls. Caesar has been murdered and so the battle for control of Rome is what Season 2 is all about.
Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd), two warriors of the thirteenth around which the series is built are back however Rome season 2 is mostly about Octavian and Mark Antony fighting for control over Rome after the cremation of Caesar.
Lucius Vorenus is recovering from the death of his wife and has lost his family. As a nice touch we see the formation of the Italian mafia (the Collegium). Cicero tries to play lip service to all sides and gets into some handy work. Duro, a young servant attempts to carry out Servilia's plan to murder Atia.
Octavian has grown up into the new Caesar while Agrippa falls for Octavia. Brutus and Cassius are declared enemies of the state. Will Mark Antony become Octavian's ally or will they continue to fight? Titus Pullo's wife, Eirene, has a surprise. Greece becomes the location for a big showdown and finally we get the epic battle we have all been waiting for.
Lots of people are mysteriously killed overnight and there are a few shock suicides along the way. Posca gets a bigger role and Herod shows up. The new slave girl, Gaia, puts all wickedness to shame while a strangulation death-bed scene is sure to leave viewers traumatized. There are also some dreadful torture sequences (involving kids and women) and the sex scenes are scandalous for mainstream television (and maybe even for the adult channel!). The show eventually turns to Alexandria, Egypt with Cleopatra for the grand finale and the exit of some major characters.
Rome is all about power and avoiding humiliation. At the same time the complexity of the drama on display is impressive enough to give the viewer a new lease of life by thinking about the world as they have never seen it before. HBO/BBC have recreated a much needed and severely wanted historical drama. There are some minor limitations. There is a Jewish story which doesn't develop so well, but looks good. The young outstanding, Max Pirkis, who plays Gaius Octavian, leaves prematurely because they must replace him with an older actor, Simon Woods, who is convincing as the new Caesar. Season 2 is two episodes less than season 1. You can watch it very quickly. It is only 10 episodes long.
The other regretful news is that before Season 2 was released the producers announced that this was to be the final Season. Rome was originally conceived as a mini-series anyway but HBO/BBC thought it good enough to at least turn into a season. We are lucky to have two seasons. Also the $100 million cost per season didn't generate the enormous returns expected from big investment, even though Rome had millions of viewers. If fans want to push for another season there is the problem that the sets burned down in an accidental fire at Cinecitta Studios backlot. So it seems Rome season 1 and 2 are all there is... but its two seasons of some of the maddest, baddest, intellectual drama ever seen on TV. Long live the Republic!