Set in 43AD, decades after Caesar’s misguided attempt to conquer Britain, the Roman army returns under the command of Aulus Plautius (Morrissey).
The only problem is that Britannia is controlled by the warring factions of the Cantii (ruled by Ian McDiarmid) and the Regni (ruled by a very potty-mouthed Zoe Wanamaker) who also reside under the magical reign of the Druids, who have a link with the Underworld and who relay the whims of the Gods.
After sacking and burning the first village they come across, the Romans make camp and parlay with all three of the factions, Plautius planning to negotiate and work them all against each other even more than they already are in order to create chaos and make his invasion easier. The only problem is he doesn’t count on the Druids deciding to install new regal figureheads, mutiny in his own ranks, or a little girl that is seemingly written of in a prophecy that is coming true due to actions that he and his army undertake.
The first co-production between Sky and Amazon, this is no Game of Thrones, and it is more than a little whimsical when it comes to historical accuracy.
Morrissey seems to be having a great time, hamming it up, but the whole production seems to be treading water, unsure of what genre it wants to belong to. It looks sumptuous, and most of the acting is pretty good - albeit the accents are all over the place - but it just loses its way when it tries to find a level that it is comfortable on.
The whole production would be much stronger if it decided to be an all-out comedy, perhaps echoing The Holy Grail, or making itself a gritty historical drama that really shows us the grime and horror of 1st Century Britain. Even if it lost the magical elements, it would not be anywhere near as messy as it turns out.
The final two episodes really give us an idea of the missed opportunity here to make a potentially legendary show that would live long in the memory.
Obviously set up for a second season, one can only hope that it narrows the genre spectrum and marches onwards to a more structured future.
BRITANNIA: SEASON 1 / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: JEZ BUTTERWORTH, TOM BUTTERWORTH, JAMES RICHARDSON / STARRING: DAVID MORRISSEY, KELLY REILLY, NIKOLAJ LIE KAAS, MACKENZIE CROOK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW