Customer Review

170 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal! Best depiction of Rome ever!, November 25, 2009
This review is from: Rome: The Complete Series [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
When I was younger, I used to love watching movies like Spartacus, not so much because they provided particularly great depictions of ancient Rome, but because they were the way anybody get any sense of the grandeur of the Roman empire. In fact, looking back, those films were often quite cheesy. Hollywood stopped making movies about ancient Rome for a long while, until Gladiator came out in 2000. As a movie, Gladiator was awesome and showed a vastly more realistic yet grander Rome than ever before seen in Hollywood. Yet, as history, the movie had its flaws (most notably that it distorted the historical record quite bit). However, I'd despaired that it would be the pinnacle of our ability to visualize Rome.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that HBO did an excellent job at recreating the ancient Roman empire in its miniseries Rome. At first, I was suspicious, worried that Rome would become twisted by HBO, the same creators of Sex and the City. Yet, the series is awesome. In terms of the production quality, it looks and feels like a big budget movie (indeed, the cost of the series eventually doomed it). The acting, visual effects, and soundtrack are exceptional (be sure to get Jeff Beal's soundtrack Rome: Music from the HBO Series).

HBO also took care to portray Rome in a somewhat historically accurate fashion. HBO hired expert historians and consultants for every detail. Unlike most movies about ancient Rome, HBO did not shy away from portraying the less glamorous sides of Rome. In fact, much of the series deals with everyday citizens, from prostitutes to roving gangs. This in turn means that the series includes a lot of explicit sex and violence. While this means the series isn't appropriate for kids or the faint of heart, it does mean that Rome shows Rome as it actually was.

One thing I love about this series is that it deals with the last years of the Roman Republic, one of the most compelling eras in history. Most movies and TV shows shy away from historically important events, but HBO tackles it with gusto. The show manages to remain historically accurate while using actual historical to provide the drama in the show. HBO did a great job finding actors to portray Julius Caesar, Pompey, Mark Antony, Cato, and the rest of the dramatis personae (although I wasn't as pleased with their choices for the Augustus side of the family - see below). At times, you almost feel like you traveled back in a time machine to witness these epic events. If you're interested in this period, I'd recommend Tom Holland's Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic for more depth on events during the period. I only wish the series had been longer rather than only two seasons - it would have great to have seen the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest in 9 AD, or the end of Augustus' reign. However, apparently the budget for the show grew so large that HBO (foolishly) decided to cancel it.

My only criticism of the show is the portrayal of Augustus and his mother, Atia (Polly Walker). Historians don't necessarily have accurate information on the personalities of these figures, and there probably isn't a "definitive" interpretation of their lives. Still, I thought the show took a few too many liberties. While Atia in real life was probably cunning and ambitious, Polly Walker's version of Atia makes her into a psychotic and sadistic woman. In one scene, she even has a torture room and tortures Servilla. There's no historical basis for any of that, and it does seem a bit outlandish. For his part, Augustus as played by Simon Woods seemed a bit too dull and cynical. Again, while I'm sure Augustus must have had excellent political acumen to rise so high, he was also a brilliant administrator and did have a vision for Rome. I just didn't think HBO's depiction of either character stood up well or resembled what I had read in Anthony Everitt's excellent Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor.

A quick note about the DVDs themselves. They are excellent quality and include hours of bonus materials, including deleted scenes and "making of" featurettes. I found some of the commentary about the interpretation of the characters pretty interesting. IF you or anybody you know loves ancient Roman history, Rome should definitely be on your Christmas list.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 6, 2010 10:58:50 PM PDT
Wulfstan says:
Thank you for those historical notes, and for this over-all well done review! Added to my wish-list.

Posted on Feb 1, 2011 2:26:25 PM PST
D. Presler says:
I loved the series. But I did find it disconcerting that the character Cato was cast as being older than Caesar when in fact the real Cato the Younger was younger than Caesar. Great review.

Posted on Nov 16, 2011 11:06:55 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 16, 2011 11:10:35 AM PST
I enjoyed your review and also think that the series probably gives us a good "feel" for the period. Historically, the overall sweep is true but there is - as you say - a great deal of liberty taken with certain characters. I only hope that people realize that what HBO gave us was a magnificent soap opera built around historical high points. The real Atia, for example, mother of Augustus, was considered a model of virtue and the epitome of the true Roman matron, a far cry from the fictional Atia of the series. And she died about a year and a half after Caesar's assassination; so all that juicy intrigue with Marc Antony and the rivalry with Augustus' wife? Pure, glorious fiction. And Servilia? Much fiction here also. The real Servilia survived any repercussions of her son's part in Caesar's death and lived out her life under the protection of Cicero's friend Atticus. (No dramatic suicide in the street!) So I hope people will enjoy this marvelous romp but take it all with a bit of salt - and a bit of Googling for something more accurate.
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