Created by Jez Butterworth, Tom Butterworth & James Richardson. Starring David Morrissey, Kelly Reilly, Nikolaj Lie Kaas. Historical Fantasy, UK, cert 15.

Released in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on 26th March 2018


Arriving on Sky Atlantic in a year that is empty of Game Of Thrones, their biggest ratings winner by a considerable margin, they unleash their own production Britannia. Whilst not the runaway ratings success they may have been hoping for it definitely has its charms that runs on its own strange energy. What we have here is a period drama quite unlike any other right now; a mix of historical fact and anarchistic fantasy courtesy of a tribe of drug inhaling druids and warring British tribes flipping off their collective middle fingers to an invading and powerful Roman force.


  Created and written by acclaimed playwright Jez Butterworth, with his brother Tom, they waste no time in setting out their stall and how to present it. Roman armies return to Britannia nine decades later to do what Caesar tried and failed. Led by Aulus Plautius, David Morrissey, this Roman army speak in English accents, no pretence being made to disguise them at all. That’s just how it is, settle back and enjoy yourself folks because that’s just how it is going to be. And just wait until we get to the demon possessed mystic and ancient druid who’s been around since the dawn of time who hangs around Stonehenge! Don’t take anything seriously, but because no one behind the camera wants to.


 There is however a keen interest here in the time period and a genuine interest in exploring the opposing cultures and their religions, treating them as matter of fact which allows the fantasy aspects to integrate smoothly with the historical drama that sprawls out over these nine episodes.


 David Morrissey grounds things with his domineering performance as Aulus, a Roman general who has no problems with putting his own soldiers to the sword and delights in the various feuds erupting among the tribes he has come to conquer. Veteran actors Ian McDiarmid and Zoe Wanamaker as warring, foul mouthed tribe leaders King Pellenor and Queen Antidia have more fun than Kelly Reilly as Pellenor’s daughter Kerra, who is in danger of being ousted from the tribe. Her performance is fine but her character is one of the least interesting the show has to offer when the unwanted role of stoic leader is thrust upon her. The most entertaining and interesting characters here are an astonishing looking Mackenzie Crook as Veran, the aforementioned ancient druid who holds sway over the tribes with his sunken, cadaverous and fanged visage and sunken black eyes. He is the shows most eye-catching creation and he grabs most of its trippy and outrageous scenes, one highlight being the gruesome, ritualistic evisceration of a corpse; no gory detail is missed out, spines and eyeballs are replaced with sticks and stones whilst small children frolic and laugh around Veran as he goes about this bloody ritual.


 An impressive number of female characters hold sway over Britannia which is refreshing for the genre. The shows youngest protagonist Cait, Eleanor Worthington Cox, next to Kerra is the more successful example of that here. Neither girl nor woman as her naming ritual is rudely interrupted by the invasion she is then forced into a burgeoning buddy relationship with the mystic Divis, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, outcast from the druids who comes to realise she is part of an important prophecy that Aulus has his own vested interests in. This is an appealing and sweary double act, like a muddy, period take on Obi-Wan and Skywalker by way of Blackadder and whilst Britannia is not quite yet an essential watch it definitely has the potential to improve as its storylines and characters progress towards this fiery prophecy.


 Britannia is a slick and fun watch. Whilst it feels it in thrall to Game of Thrones, especially when copying one of that shows patented shocking plot developments, it has enough of its own identity and punky take on history that it could develop its own identity more and more as it goes on, hopefully gaining an audience appreciative of its gory, soapy and muddily mystical take on how this ancient land forged itself in war.


 The extra features included on the DVD amount to nothing more than two promotional featurettes about the story and characters. Hopefully future seasons will have more in depth analysis of the historical and fantastical influences that mark Britannia out more than its fellow historical shows currently on the air.


Iain MacLeod








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FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
 © 2000 - 2018