Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - JAMES DYER

The part of the mag­a­zine where we ask the ques­tion that’s been on ev­ery­one’s minds for cen­turies: will we ever see Ja­son Statham punch a gi­ant pre­his­toric shark?


CRE­ATED BY Jez But­ter­worth

CAST David Mor­ris­sey, Kelly Reilly, Macken­zie Crook, Ian Mc­di­armid

PLOT It’s AD 43 and Ro­man le­gions un­der Gen­eral Au­lus Plau­tius (Mor­ris­sey) have been dis­patched to con­quer the Bri­tish Isles. The Celts have other ideas, how­ever, and fear of their dark arts be­gins to fo­ment re­bel­lion within the Ro­man ranks.

WITH ITS BLOOD, boobs, body count and cock­tail of re­gional Bri­tish ac­cents, Bri­tan­nia has clearly been crafted as an at­tempt to re­peat Game Of Thones’ suc­cess. Given Ge­orge R.R. Martin’s fan­tasy epic was it­self heav­ily in­flu­enced by Euro­pean history (most no­tably the Plan­ta­genet squab­bles of the Mid­dle Ages), it’s easy to see how tak­ing a sim­i­larly lively slice of Bri­tain’s past, pop­u­lat­ing it with char­ac­ter ac­tors and let­ting the sev­ered limbs fall where they may must have seemed like a good idea.

While os­ten­si­bly rooted in fact, Bri­tan­nia bears about as much re­sem­blance to the ac­tual in­va­sion of Eng­land as Thrones does to The War Of The Roses. In But­ter­worth’s Bri­tain, druids have been pro­moted from cler­i­cal au­thor­i­ties to muck-streaked sor­cer­ers able to see the fu­ture, sum­mon demons and ma­nip­u­late the minds of men. It is they, rather than the Ro­mans, that make up the se­ries’ most ma­lig­nant fac­tion, rul­ing the Bri­tons through fear and in­tim­i­da­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, that mainly con­sists of a ca­dav­er­ous Macken­zie Crook rasp­ing dire prophe­cies in peo­ple’s faces with scant re­gard for their per­sonal space.

The Celtic clans are sim­i­larly un­der­whelm­ing. Dour King Pel­lenor of the Can­tii (Mc­di­armid) spends most of his time grous­ing about his free-spir­ited daugh­ter, Kerra (Reilly). Mean­while his son and heir, Phe­lan (Ju­lian Rhind-tutt), lives in eye-rolling suf­fer­ance af­ter the druids de­creed his schem­ing wife (Annabel Sc­ho­ley) take a burly Gaul as her sec­ond hus­band. That is when he’s not be­ing se­duced by Ania (Liana Cor­nell), the daugh­ter of ri­val Celtish clan the Regni and Earthly avatar (we’re told) of Brenna, the god­dess of war. Mean­while, Zoë Wana­maker’s Queen Ante­dia is hell­bent on re­venge for Kerra’s mid-nup­tial cas­tra­tion of her el­dest son. Sala­cious and labyrinthine it most cer­tainly is, but none of these threads prove wildly com­pelling, nor — by the sea­son’s halfway point, at least — hint at a deeper nar­ra­tive. Sedi­tion and plot­ting within Plau­tius’ ranks have promise but even this suf­fers from a lack of fo­cus and is fre­quently un­der­cut by the show’s jar­ringly un­even tone.

From the off, Bri­tan­nia can’t seem to de­cide whether it’s try­ing to be deathly se­ri­ous or played for laughs. Hor­rific scenes of flay­ing and tor­ture sit awk­wardly be­side Rhind-tutt’s Black­ad­der sar­donicism and the ca­per­ing of Niko­laj Lie Kaas’ de­mon-pos­sessed her­mit. Two skits in

par­tic­u­lar, fea­tur­ing a pair of le­gionar­ies, a dis­puted coin toss and am­bi­gu­ity over who called whose mother what, de­scend into near Pythonesque farce, yet pre­cede a scene in which a pris­oner is blinded with a red-hot knife. The psy­che­delic ti­tle se­quence — in­ex­pli­ca­bly set to Dono­van’s Hurdy Gurdy Man — is the pe­cu­liar cherry on a very dis­cor­dant cake.

The show is shot largely on lo­ca­tion (in Eng­land, Wales and the Czech Repub­lic) and makes de­cent use of the ver­dant coun­try­side, but the bud­get is a frac­tion of HBO’S and there are no Cgi-en­hanced vis­tas to pro­vide a sense of scale. Equally, for a story about con­quest, bat­tles are few and far be­tween, and largely lim­ited to fee­ble push­ing and shov­ing in the woods.

As a ri­val Thrones, this isn’t go­ing to give HBO ex­ecs any sleep­less nights. Mean­while, view­ers look­ing for their fill of his­tor­i­cal vi­o­lence are bet­ter served catch­ing up on Vik­ings or The Last King­dom in­stead.

VER­DICT De­spite its lofty am­bi­tions, Sky’s Bri­tan­nia does not rule.

Goth camp­ing: noth­ing to crow about.

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