sun 19/09/2021

Britannia, Series 3, Sky Atlantic review - murder, mysticism and anaemic slapstick | reviews, news & interviews

Britannia, Series 3, Sky Atlantic review - murder, mysticism and anaemic slapstick

Britannia, Series 3, Sky Atlantic review - murder, mysticism and anaemic slapstick

Welcome to a bizarre pre-Britain where anything can happen

Be very afraid: Sophie Okonedo as Hemple

According to series newcomer Sophie Okonedo, arriving in Roman Britain as Hemple, the wife of David Morrissey’s General Aulus, "I was already a fan of the show. I love it so much… I’d been thinking this is such a brilliant show to be in.”

A bit of enthusiasm is obviously commendable, but you have to wonder if it’s wise for illustrious thespians to tie themselves to the mast of the Butterworth family’s bizarre fantasies of pre-Britain in AD43. Tonally, Britannia (Sky Atlantic) bounces around between pagan mysticism, merciless militaristic empire-building, crude in-your-face sexuality, anaemic slapstick from an entirely pointless Julian Rhind-Tutt, and fairytale horror. Its saving grace is its palette of rich, filmic colours and intensely atmospheric locations and scene-setting. Sequences shot in a panorama of hills and pine forest with low cloud hovering in the foliage was worth 100 pages of dialogue. This dialogue, anyway (pictured below, Mackenzie Crook as Veran).

The thing is nuts, though I suppose it is indeed true that the ancient world was full of horrors, superstitions and life-is-cheap attitudes that are – mostly, at least – inconceivable today, so perhaps there’s a micro-grain of truth in it somewhere.

Still, episode one included an episode of hideous gruesomeness which is going to be hard to top. This was in a flashback to Aulus’s life in Rome, where he watched in mounting horror as Hemple, in full-on ceremonial priestess mode, ritually sacrificed their baby son with a big and very ugly knife. Sickening stuff, and perilously close to breaching the Unacceptable barrier. They surely wouldn’t put up with this sort of thing on BritBox.

Gorey one-upmanship is the order of the day, and Hemple was at it again, once the timeline had sorted itself out and she’d joined Aulus in weird, foggy, Druid-drenched Britain. You’d better watch your back when Hemple is around, because, after she’d taken a dislike to Aulus’s aide-de-camp Vitus (Gershwyn Eustache Jnr), she had him served up for dinner on a bed of red-hot coals. Then they all had a Roman-style orgy, complete with bondage and lots of naked bottoms, in Aulus’s lounge. Amena (Annabel Scholey), Aulus’s on-site lover, should perhaps be thinking about a rapid relocation. Aulus made a feeble effort to rein in Hemple’s anarchic blood-lust. “You don’t eat anyone without my say-so,” he commanded, ineffectually.

Meanwhile, outside the Roman camp, Zoe Wanamaker is back as Antedia, Queen of the Regni. She has been captured by a group of grunting low-lifes who have a corpse as a regular dinner-table guest, and has been chained up at the bottom of a well and forced to wear a wire mask. Happily, she’s going to dupe one of her very dim captors into putting toxic “moon trees” in their weasel stew, rendering them insensible so she can burn them alive in their home.

We also catch up with Cait (Eleanor Worthington-Cox, pictured right), the mysterious chosen child, who slashes the throat of Veran the Druid (a skeletal Mackenzie Crook) and then finds herself hanging out with Lucius, the centurion who stabbed Jesus on the cross. Here, as you can see, anything can happen (a visit from Thor or Iron man probably can't be ruled out). And how significant is it, for instance, that Marc Bolan’s’ “Children of the Revolution” has replaced Donovan on the soundtrack?

Episode one included an episode of hideous gruesomeness which is going to be hard to top

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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The sacrifice was not “their” son, the mother was Aulus’ dead wife. I wonder if the reviewer actually watched as there is a scene where Aulus discusses the mother when looking at the stars. It’s an important distinction for Aulus’ character arc.

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