The Radio Times on Saturday offered this less than overwhelmed assessment of “Empire”, the mini-series on Rome which started that evening on Hallmark (which seems to be a general entertainment channel):
Gasp at Caesar's assassination, marvel at the bloody conspiracies that follow, cower at the sight of Jonathan Cake as the all-conquering Tyrannus. Yes, it's history Hollywood style, showing the glory that was Rome reduced to squalor and cliche. The cast struggle to breathe life into this pap. Which is not to say that it's not highly enjoyable, for all the wrong reasons. Best thing is the shameless, bloodthirsty Gladiator imitation which runs throughout.
“Empire” was made, they say, as a spoiler for the real thing, “Rome”, which has now started in America and is coming here in November. It was made jointly by HBO and the BBC and cost a hundred million dollars, which seems to mean that the money was mainly put up by HBO and the BBC provided the actors, who are apparently British. I suppose that it was the money that meant that American viewers get it before we do, or perhaps it's because we shall get it free, on terrestrial television (BBC2), so the commercial broadcasters insist on recouping their investment first.
Reviews of “Rome” collected by Explorator say things like:
Of the six episodes that were released for press review, half a dozen put me to sleep by the end of the hour. It was a gentle, lulling slumber, punctuated with faintly overheard scraps of dialogue from one of the show's copious banquet scenes (“More tench? A dormouse, perhaps?”) or Senate-floor debates (“Caesar will have to accept or refuse the terms, because Mark Antony will immediately use the tribune's veto!”). – http://slate.msn.com/id/2125152/
Less perverse than “I, Claudius,'' more entertaining than ABC's toga twister “Empire,'' “Rome'' gets off to an uneven start. The debut opens with a bloody battle that could have been ripped from the deleted scenes of “Gladiator: Extended Edition.'' … Just when you think Comcast must have tripped a switch and zoned you into an episode of PBS' “Mastersnooze Theatre,'' “Rome'' introduces Atia (Polly Walker), Caesar's niece. The woman knows no boundaries, flaunting her nude body in front of her teenage son Octavian (Max Pirkis), the future Augustus Caesar, and throwing him into danger for political gain. … The violence in “Rome'' is sometimes shocking and always graphic. True to the day, slaves are treated as fleas, either ignored or casually swatted. The scenes of medicine, ancient-world style, will have you taking back every bad thing you ever muttered about your HMO. A less than subtle point of this 12-episode run emphasizes how much an average person can influence history. Give “Rome'' a place on your cable itinerary. (Three stars out of four) – http://theedge.bostonherald.com/tvNews/view.bg?articleid=99501&format=&page=1
“Rome” isn't so much a Sunday night diversion as a task, lacking the poetry that makes expletive-laden “Deadwood” sparkle with eloquence. Unlike HBO's western, you won't exactly be clamoring for the next week's episode at the end of “Rome” — not after hour one or hour six.
A co-production of HBO and the BBC, “Rome” lavishes us with spectacular sets and splendid acting, taking extraordinary pains to re-create the era down to the silks and rags everyone wears. If it doesn't hit, it won't be for lack of trying — which “Rome” does in earnest, only far less successfully than one would expect of a $100 million series.
Heavy attention to detail isn't enough to make up for the plodding, haughty pompousness threatening to rob the series of its potential to seduce. This is in spite of a plot saucy enough to be considered prime-time soap material even if the main events have been retold too many times to count. – http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/tv/238056_tv26.html
Neither series to be shown uncut to Year 11, then. Or have schools changed so much since I ceased teaching?
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