Rome – Review (Season 1 & 2)
Aired: 2005 – 2007
Starring: Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker & James Purefoy.
Genre: Historical Drama.
Rome is a historical-drama chronicling the lives of legendary Roman figures and those not-so-legendary, infusing sensationalism and fiction with known history.
In many ways Rome was the predecessor of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Both series follow a variety of complex storyline strands that involve a large variety of characters, but whereas Rome seemed to reel them in within the second season; Game of Thrones continues to get larger and larger.
Rome is also much more hit ‘n’ miss in terms of plot. Some of the storylines are fantastic (Julius Caesar’s dictatorship and downfall, Atia and Servilia’s feuding), but others are so off the mark that it’s shocking. The most egregious example that springs to mind is the Timon the Jew storyline that springs up in season 2. Timon, a hired hand that helps Atia in exchange for sex and money, has a brother that comes to stay, a brother that reminds Timon he’s “one of the chosen people” and leads him upon a path of righteousness and piety that seems to completely fizzle out in the later stages of Season 2 with random attacks on elders that very few seem to care about, the irritating brother’s death by Timon’s hand and an unsatisfying ending just episodes later. Another irritating plot trick Rome is guilty of is the typical thing HBO shows resort to: just as much sex and violence as possible.
Ultimately Rome is a hard-political piece of fiction (one of the contributors to why it failed) that excels when it focuses on the characters we care about, but fails (with a wide audience) when it focuses too much on the politics of the time. There were times when I felt I had to be an expert on the history of Rome to understand what exactly was happening.
Rome boasted one of the finest casts in television in 2005. It had revered veterans (Ciarán Hinds, Lindsay Duncan & Kenneth Cranham) and talented younger actors (Ray Stevenson, Kevin McKidd & Max Pirkis). It’s unfortunate that a lot of the supremely talented actors were replaced by lessers in season 2, either by recasting (Pirtkis loses the role of Octavian to the dreadful Simon Woods) or just by replacement (Lee Boardman’s Timon is just filling space).
Polly Walker as Atia of the Julii
Polley Walker is the stand-out in the cast for me. Walker plays Atia as a Edina Monsoon-I, Claudius’ Livia hybrid. Her delivery is a little too modern, but her comedic timing and campy acting often makes the highlight of episodes.
Ray Stevenson as Titus Pollo
Stevenson truly was a find: dotingly gentle and frighteningly fierce at the same time. His ‘bromance’ with Lucius Vorenus is one of the most memorable of all time.
Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus
Kevin McKidd plays the less impressive role in the bromance equation here. He’s the pious straight-man with a wife and children at home, tempted by ambition and politics. But as Lucius falls into depravity in season 2 (triggered by him killing his own wife none-the-less), McKidd really shows off his chops.
James Purefoy as Mark Antony
Whether it be the assurance he projects in battle scenes or the stoic masculinity in love scenes, Purefoy is just fantastic as the warmongering Mark Antony.
I really want to praise the acting in Rome to the high heavens because of the actors above, but I do have to recall that Rome had weak-links in Lyndsey Marshal (boringly impersonating Angelina Jolie moreson than playing Cleopatra) and Kerry Condon (underwhelming as Atia’s daughter, Octavia of the Julii). And the large presence in season 2 of Simon Wood (who hasn’t acted since) as the Older Octavian and Coral Amiga (who has barely acted since) as Vorena, the eldest daughter of Lucius, that they sink the show and my rating.
With the exception of a few particularly breathtaking shots, Rome does look its age. It’s not as jarring as I,Claudius by any means, but you will feel the age of the series before you find yourself immersed in everything else.
On the writing front Bruno Heller (Gotham) handles proceedings with mostly positive results. Rome favours artistic interpretation and poetic license over historical accuracy, which is always the correct decision with shows such as this. It’s particularly noticeable in the second half of season 2, when nearly every characters seems to die or abruptly form factions against one another. The reason for this is understandable: HBO and BBC suddenly decided to end the show in the midst of the writing of season 2.
It’s 1 for me, without even a second thought. The acting, writer and plotting is superior. Season 2 feels like what it was: a rushed show that knows its dying without a chance in hell of survival.
Many episodes deserve this title. Many episodes come close. I have to award it to “Kalends of February,” the finale of season 1. It’s the episode where the build-up pays off. “The Spoils” is a very close second.
There’s no episode that’s particularly bad, but I’ll give this to the pilot of Rome, “The Stolen Eagle.” It could’ve, should’ve and needed to have been better than it was.