At the gate and threatening
The History Channel has certainly shrugged off its once derisory label as the Hitler Channel, earned when it seemed to feature nothing but black and white World War II documentaries. It’s worked hard to change its image with trendy scripted series such as Vikings, Hatfields & McCoys and Sons of Liberty. Not all have been successful but they are certainly ambitious entertainment.
The latest is Barbarians Rising. Premiering across 185 territories, it’s ambitious, lavish and compelling viewing, a kind of period documentary propelled by re-enactments done in the sexy style of Game of Thrones. It’s the story of the fall of the Roman Empire told from the perspective of the barbarian leaders who destroyed it, a series of improvised rebellions against the nature of absolute power.
Barbarians, detested outsiders without civilisation according to Rome, were great warriors led by revered leaders such as Hannibal, Spartacus, Attila and the less well-known Fritigern, the Goth who handed Rome its worst defeat in centuries at Adrianople, and they launched an epic battle of resistance.
The first barbarian leader dramatised is Hannibal Barca, who challenges Rome by marching his forces, a united army of disparate tribes, across the inhospitable alps and into Italy.
The battle scenes are wonderfully choreographed and shot, the hundreds of extras well-rehearsed and the leading actors all deliver their scripted lines with the appropriate gravity. And the talking heads who occasionally interrupt the action are an amusingly eclectic lot, not only historians but archeologists, military leaders, American civil rights figures and a chief executive who speaks about confidence in leadership.
Barbarians Rising, Monday, 8.30pm, History (611)
Hannibal Barca is the first of the barbarians to be featured in the History Channel series Barbarians Rising