Britannia Season 1 (TV show review).

April 10, 2018 | By | Reply More

In 43AD, the Romans invade Britain, crossing paths with two warring tribes, the Cantii and the Regni. As the Roman soldiers face their fears of the horrors Britannia has in store for them, their leader, Aulus Plautius, tries to strike a deal with each tribe. Offering the protection of Rome in return for very reasonable taxes, Plautius soon runs up against the Druids and finds that not only the people but also the land and its spirits may be against him. Yet, as the tribal war escalates, Plautius turns to the Druids for guidance and finds that just one girl may stand in his way, the young girl of a blind father.

‘Britannia’ is one of the latest big budget ensemble cast dramas produced by Sky and Amazon and it’s certainly a good-looking production. From the superb make-up, particularly on the Druid’s leader, Veren, to the lavish costumes and finely detailed sets, you can see the effort and the money that has gone into this show. It portrays the time period nicely, immersing the viewer in the culture and the landscape to great effect. I did find the theme tune, ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan, to be completely incongruous and it sent me back to the modern world with a jarring thud but, once I got past that and settled back into the action, the world the series presented was very convincing.

Of course, none of that makes any difference if you don’t have the cast to make the most of it and ‘Britannia’ has one of the best set of actors I’ve seen for a while, all of them working together to really draw you into the story, no mean feat as the plot is fairly convoluted at times. David Morrissey is completely believable as a Roman general, exuding an aura of sheer power with just a hint of recklessness. Every time he is on the screen your eye is just drawn to him completely, although he does have some fierce competition. Mackenzie Crook plays the leader of the Druids, Veren, and that’s a part that looks like fun.

He’s the spiritual guide of the tribes, communicating with the gods and the dead alike in a kind of drug-fuelled psychosis. Utterly mad yet never coming across as a caricature, Crook really shines in this role. He also makes a good contrast with the outcast Divis (Nikolaj Lie Kass), a character who has gone completely over the edge and seems to be lost in his own paranoid world. These two characters both delve into the spirit world and could have been very similar, but they come across as very different despite their common traits.

The female characters also more than hold their own here, which is fitting for a time when women were seen as equals. From the scheming Amena (Annabel Scholey) with her devious plans to seize power to the naïve yet fiery Cait (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) who just wants to find her father and be safe again, there’s a strong female presence. Eleanor Worthington-Cox was particularly impressive, showing a lot of diversity as her young character develops throughout the series and through a series of harrowing experiences. My favourite of all, though, was Zoe Wannamaker as Queen Antedia of the Regni. She was just superb and I’d have liked to see more of her delightfully acidic character.

The plot itself was both very simple. Rome wants the tribes to swear allegiance and pay taxes and very complicated, involving an awful lot of very odd goings-on. The spiritual side of this time period was brought to the forefront and viewers are taken on journeys to the underworld, through visions and into the darker side of humanity.

There are some brutal moments, both mentally and physically, and it’s probably not a series for the squeamish. It also gets very trippy by the time we hit about episode 7, with a lot of blurry camera work that I found a bit annoying but that did manage to convey when the characters were high on something. I have to admit to finding the whole thing a bit confusing at times, with a lot of characters, very little distinction between the real and the imagined and an odd structure to the story that resulted in some pacing problems. It also had an irritating ending and I can only imagine that there’s going to be a second series to continue the story.

Despite its flaws, ‘Britannia’ is worth a watch. The cast is very good and, even with the problems in pacing and slightly confusing plot, it’s still pretty compelling viewing. There are a couple of extras on the DVD/Blu-ray but these are fairly standard fare with a few interviews with cast members and discussions of the characters and show. It’s a series that’s worth a bit of your time, but it isn’t one that would make it to my top ten and I don’t think I’ll be re-watching it again soon, though I’ll probably tune in for series two just to find out what happens next.

Vinca Russell

April 2018

(pub: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 3 blu-ray disks 420 minutes 1 * 60 minute and 8 * 45 minute episodes and a couple extras. Price: £22.99 (UK). ASIN: B0792NXG8G)

cast: David Morrissey, Kelly Reilly, Zoe Wanamaker, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Mackenzie Crook

check out website: www.sonypictures.com

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Category: Fantasy, TV

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