Thursday, 22 February 2018


As we all endure the long night towards the final season of Game of Thrones, production companies have been tripping over themselves trying to find a super successful filler for that void. Usually, these replacements try to do this by sharing the same historical settings. We've had Vikings, then Knightfall, and now we have Sky's Britannia, set in 43AD Britain, when the country was ruled by tribes and the Roman's were making their second attempt at an invasion. Of course, you have the potential for a major downfall when you start comparing yourself to such big hitters as Thrones.

This is a Britain where Druid's decide who should reign, who lives and dies, and who should save the day. Lead Druid Veran (Mackenzie Crook) decided on a prophecy long ago which may have something to do with the Roman invasion, lead by Aulus Plautius (David Morrisey). The Canti is a tribe ruled by a king who disowns his daughter Kerra (Kelly Reilly), and the Regni are ruled by the harsh Antedia (Zoe Wanamaker). Meanwhile, a nameless girl (Elanor Worthington-Cox) is separated from the father who is taken into slavery and is helped out by outcast Druid Divis (Nikolaj Lie Kaas).

I'll be honest, I was quite excited for this show, as its portraying a part of history I find quite fascinating. However, by the end of the first episode, I knew this show was going to turn into a slog. Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is used as the title theme, and the song is so discombobulating and got only more grating with each episode. The crux of episode one falls on Aulus telling a scared Roman soldier that you can't claim to have conquered a land until you've had a shit in it, then handing him some leaves to get on with his business. No subtext or subtly there, and it is highly indicative of the rest of the series.

There was plenty of moments for even a pleb like me to question if the screen writers had done any basic research on the time period. I would of forgiven the extravagant depiction of the Druids, as we do know very little about them, if they kept to other historical accuracies. Using runes as a writing system is out by at least 100 years, and leather armour wasn't nearly as popular as the show makes it seem. Even the way the Roman's talk about religion isn't quite accurate, as they viewed the gods as working more for them, rather then them working for the gods. The only plus I would give the show in this area is the ambiguity it gives to the Britons religion and Divis' magic, which could be argued fall more into suggestion and hypnotism, and drive a healthy scepticism about the reality of their gods.

Characterisation was also consistently weak. At best characters like Kerra and Veran were just bland, and at worst they were frustratingly annoying. The nameless girl and Divis got worse the longer you saw them, and Kerra's sister-in-law Amena (Annabel Scholey) drifts into pure melodramatic hissy-fits more akin to a daytime soap then a prime time drama. By the end, you are left with practically no characters you care about, as no one has changed in any meaningful way.

Stylistic choices are uneven too. The location scout did a good job in finding awe-inspiring landscapes which would inspire the inner animist in you (although, somewhat humorously, none of it was shot in England, but rather Wales and the Czech-Republic). The cinematography was galling in parts too, giving certain scenes with drug consumption a nasty lo-fi quality, which did not look "trippy" in any way and just left me wondering if there was something wrong with my televison.

Considering the subject matter, there was fertile ground ready for a mystical tale of wild people intimately connected to a liminal space, but instead Britannia decided to spend far too much time dedicated to telling strikingly unfunny jokes. Often you would find yourself watching a scene that you would only realise later was meant to be comedic, leaving you sour at what ultimately turned out to just a bunch of time wasting before the last episode.

I always find it funny that what producers think makes Game of Thrones successful is its mix of historical setting, violence and sex. Game of Thrones works because it is a well told story with engaging, flawed characters working towards individual and common goals. Britannia is a cynical and opportunistic piece of television that portrays no real passion for what its telling, and left me exhausted after each viewing as I struggled to find a reason to carry on watching.



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