Review: Rome (2005) - A historical drama of epic proportions
A larger-than-life series resurrects the Roman Empire in all its glory, gore, and corruption
By Anttoni James Numminen
Courtesy of HBO/BBC.
Let’s just say it, Russell Crowe’s Gladiator has nothing on Rome (2005).
Only two series long and spread out over 22, hour-long episodes, this joint BBC-HBO production was one of the most expensive series ever made for television when it was first broadcast, with season one costing over US$100 million.
And it shows, both on and off-screen.
Photos from the author's visit to the Cinecitta set of Rome in 2017. Photos courtesy of Arvi Seesjärvi.
Visiting the Cinecitta Studios in Rome in 2017, you could really see the money, effort, and time that went into making some of the sets alone, which impressively recreate a life-size portion of the Roman Empire’s capital.
The story itself is told through the experiences of two Roman Centurions, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, starting in 49BC under the command of Julius Caesar. But it is far from just a series about soldiers or war, as the lives of senators and slaves, nobles and commoners alike, are charted through some of the most tumultuous times in Rome’s history.
In a mix between The West Wing and The Sopranos, there is backstabbing, realpolitik, blood, sex, and tragedy. It sounds like an impossibly demanding order for one series alone. But Rome manages to provide breadth while maintaining quality and staying true to historical accuracy.
The variety of issues and topics covered - almost all based on true stories (down to Vorenus’ and Pullos’ names whom Julius Caesar mentions in his writings) - make this continually entertaining and intriguing viewing.
Admittedly, in the second series, there is at times a feeling that history is on fast-forward, as the originally planned third, fourth, and fifth seasons are crammed into one. But that’s forgivable, as the writing is paired with a stellar cast including Kenneth Cranham, Ian McNeice and Ciarán Hinds, who add gravitas and realism to originality.
If you enjoy television that is set at a good pace (forget constant cutting every few seconds), where attention to detail in terms of story, set, and crew are emphasised, and you enjoy a bloody (sometimes literally) good story, then you won't regret watching Rome.