I admit the first series took a while to grow on me – it’s hard for any production about Roman life not to fall into the clichéd honey-traps of frequent orgies, bedsheet togas, busty slave girls and butch men wearing sandals but the Beeb’s first outing last year, whilst certainly referencing all of the above, still managed to pack in loads of grit and enough punches for the whole series to successfully impinge on my psyche in a positive way.
Hell. I’m wearing a toga as I type. Tentpole Toga. Hmm. Isn’t that the name of a punk band?
Anyway last night’s episode – the first of series two – kicked off immediately where the story had ended last time. Caesar’s crumpled and knifed body lying in a pool of blood and ordure in the Senate and his followers all running for their lives.
Straight in and no messing. That’s the style I like.
Polly Walker is back as the conniving Atia and although she’s looking far more mumsy around the edges than in the last series (and that’s not a complaint by any means) she still retains enough of a predilection for casual viciousness to make her character one of the most interesting on the screen. Her heaving bosom has absolutely nothing to do with it at all. Honest.
With a pushy mother like that no wonder Octavian went on to become one of Rome’s most successful emperors.
It’s also good to see Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson back as Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo respectively. They’re both great characters and generally provide the proactive element of the show. While the Senators and the women plot and scheme Lucius and Titus are the ones who go out sword in hand and with the barest of nods lop off a few heads. Plus a few arms and legs. And feet. And anything else that might be dangling loosely. It’s not a good idea to get on their bad side. Heads will roll. Literally.
Like I said: straight in and no messing is the style I like...
Which is not to say that the artistic side of their performance and dialogue delivery is not uniformly excellent too. There is a surprisingly subtle interplay between the two characters which is oddly affecting. This despite their penchant for thuggery and gory sword work. For me they are the engine of the show. Roaring away (not so quietly) in the background, providing the fuel, the motion and inevitably the spectacular car crashes which frequently punctuate the plot development.
The cast and producers of Rome have managed to both capture the flavour of the period and to modernize it sufficiently that it seems socially and politically relevant to today. An achievement that not everyone can accomplish (the producers and writers of the Beeb’s Robin Hood take note).
Bring on the busty slave girls. I’m ready for more.