Friday, November 04, 2005

Rome - The Miniseries

Atia and Diana - Sisters Under the Skin
The Roman Republic lasted for the guts of five hundred years, from the overthrow of Tarquinius Superbus, the last of the Etruscan kings in the sixth century BC until Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and appointed himself Bosso Solo in the first century BC. Viewers of the new miniseries, Rome, on BCC2 on Wednesday night, will have felt every one of those five hundred long years go by during that first episode, and can only dread the dull and buttock-numbing horror of the eleven more episodes to come.

$100 million invested in sets does not great drama make, and if there is no great drama there is no earthy reason for the sensible viewer to leave the Champions League early to visit the Eternal City. With historical drama, the creators have three choices; they can go with the historical figures themselves, a la Neil Jordan's Michael Collins; tehy can concoct a rich stew of all sorts like Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, or they can see the great world through the eyes of the little guy which, believe it or not, is the structure used in Ben-Hur.

It's the last-named that the producers of Rome have gone for, allowing us the point of view of two soldiers in the Army of the Republic, but they can't seem to stop themselves from reaching for the broad strokes of Spartacus, and end up where everyone ends up that falls between two stools - on the floor.

If the stories of the two soldiers are not in themselves interesting - and they are not - then what is the point of having them there? There is no point in having them there. The backstory - how a republic sank into tyranny - is plenty dramatic in and of itself, without having the action cluttered by the boring, boring antics of a cuckold and a drunk. Who cares?

There is only one character in the show that makes it particularly watchable, and she is Atia of the Julii (Atia Juliorum, surely? Tsk.), played with lip-smacking relish by Polly Walker. After a cursory glance at the script, Ms Walker clearly spotted the canine qualities of true dog, canus verus if you like, and as such she's decided to give Atia all the oomph she can muster. And that's some oomph - if she were a man, she would twirl a nonchalant moustache while expertly scheming and working her wiles. Think John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons and you're nearly there.

Ms Walker vamps it up to such a degree that your Spailpín Fánach - who is now as old as the very fog, you know - couldn't help but cast his mind back to Jane Badler's haughty and imperious performance as Diana, Chief Science Officer of The Visitors on the 'eighties sci-fi miniseries, V. All we need is a scene in which Ms Walker double-jointedly snaffles back a live hamster or two for the lunch and we will have a perfect match. Sisters under the skin.