November 3rd, 2005


My impression of Julius Caesar is that he was a charismatic, vulgar, life-and-soul-of-the-party sort of man- therefore not very much like the reserved, elder statesman played by Ciaran Hinds in Rome. But like I say, it's only an impression- I haven't studied the subject- maybe Hinds is right and I am wrong.

I liked Kenneth Cranham's Pompey. Cranham is a remarkably ugly man who has grown into his looks. Also a remarkably fine actor. He doesn't have very much to do, but when he's on screen he fills it. Maybe this'll make him a star.

But what's really special about this series is its texture. The legions fight in proper, machine-like, Roman order, advancing in line with their sword arms going in and out like pistons; an aristocratic lady shags her boyfriend in a bed surrounded by slaves- one working the punkah, another handing out cooling drinks; there's mud in the streets and the buildings are weathered. In terms of how it looks and feels, Rome effortlessly clears the bar that Gladiator raised.

And when it comes to ethos it's a huge improvement. The characterisation in Gladiator was simplistic- Russell Crowe was good and noble, everybody else was shite. Here we get moral complexity. Our heroes are a couple of military toughies- an unthinking, good-natured jar-head and his puritanical commanding officer. Neither is a nice chap by modern standards. The puritan heads up a crufixion squad, the jarhead collects teeth as battlefield trophies. OK, so there will be anachronism- there always is- but at least it's not going to take the form of leading characters with pansy-arsed, twenty-first century scruples.

I think I'll be sticking with this.