Imperial Rome-era European history is the backdrop for an ambitious television project, called Britannia, focused on the Roman invasion of the titular region that we now know as Great Britain. The series, which stars True Detective‘s Kelly Reilly and The Walking Dead‘s David Morrissey, represents a first-time partnership between Amazon and the U.K.’s Sky, manifesting as a sprawling 9-episode television epic period drama.
Set in the year 43AD, the show depicts the ordeal of a passionate-but-overmatched Celtic army in their effort to fight off Roman invaders tasked by Emperor Claudius to decimate the resisting forces and claim the land; something that Julius Caesar failed to accomplish nearly a century earlier. The show focuses on a region of Celtic Britain said to be ruled by “wild warrior women and powerful Druids” carrying quasi-supernatural themes, depicting the channeling of “powerful forces of the underworld.”
“Gods. Demons. – We’ve invaded Hell.”
The Britannia trailer showcases a rather esoteric and chaotic rendition of the European landscape, circa 43AD. After the might of Rome was previously dealt an embarassing bloody nose in its efforts to conquer the region known as Britannia, we see another instance where the Empire strikes back – a pleasantly pertinent Star Wars reference, since Emperor Palpatine himself, Ian McDiarmid, is in this cast.
Consequently, Rome sends a ruthless general named Aulus Plautius (David Morrissey) to deliver a devastating reprisal to the Celts and various other worshipers of the exotic for having the temerity to resist; a task that he quickly discovers is easier said than done. The threat of the invasion effort will force Celtic leader Kerra (Kelly Reilly) and Queen Antedia (Zoë Wanamaker) to set aside their differences and embrace the common cause of survival; a task that’s also easier said than done.
Britannia Release Date
Britannia will be available to binge in its 9-episode entirety on Amazon Prime on January 26.
Britannia stars Kelly Reilly, known from Season 2 of HBO’s True Detective and ABC’s 2014 drama series Black Box, also appearing in several big-screen roles, notably as Mary Watson in the 2011 franchise sequel Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Reilly plays Britannia‘s presumed central character named Kerra, whose rivalry with fellow “wild warrior woman” Antedia (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone actress Zoë Wanamaker,) will be put aside upon the arrival of a powerful common enemy in the invading Roman forces lead by an intimidating and ruthless general named Aulus Plautius (The Walking Dead’s late Governor David Morrissey).
Outlander actor Stanley Weber will also put aside his powdered wig to join the historical hullabaloo. Additional cast members include Stanley Weber, Hugo Speer, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Nikolaj Lie Kaas and the Star Wars film franchise’s manipulative hand-lightning-hurling Emperor Palpatine himself, Ian McDiarmid.
On the creative front, the epic event series is the creation of Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth and James Richardson, working off scripts by Jez, whose impressive CV contains entries such as the most recent James Bond entry Spectre, the haunting true-crime biopic Black Mass and Tom Cruise’s time-looping future-war drama Edge of Tomorrow. The scribe reveals his intended tone in a statement that heavily hints at the series’ spiritual roots amidst its hard historical presentation. According to Butterworth:
“Besides being hard, hard warriors, the Celts have a belief system which makes them almost invincible. It’s a deep, heavy magic. Last time the Romans tried to invade, the mighty Julius Caesar took one look, turned round and went straight home. Now, almost a century later, the Romans are back. Here we have a war between two pantheons — the Roman gods vs. the Celtic gods…. And we see it all from a human perspective, of individual survival, ambition, courage, lust, loss, revenge.”
Indeed, Britannia arrives as a unique historically-based entry into the ever-crowded realm of prestige television. It will be interesting to see how this intriguing interpretation of the “swords and sandals” genre can distinguish itself, walking the line between fact and fanciful fiction.