Ancient Rome, Colm Fiore, Emily Blunt, Empire, Jonathan Cake, Julius Caesar, Movies I Hate, Roman Republic, Santiago Cabrera
My review of I, Claudius inspired one of my readers, Victor, to make a generous Paypal donation and request that I review the 2005 ABC miniseries Empire, which, like I, Claudius, deals with the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. So you’re going to get a few more posts on Ancient Rome.
And hoo boy does the first scene promise a strong contrast with I, Claudius. Whereas Robert Graves was at pains to mine the historical sources for the facts, this show promises to mine absolutely nothing except old clichés. The show opens with a gladiatorial combat that works overtime to avoid anything resembling fact. The two fighters, one of whom is named Tyrannus (Jonathan Cake), are equipped with gear that is almost entirely made up; he gets two short swords because that means he’s cool. The scene repeats the nonsense that gladiatorial fights always involve the death of all but one fighter. And then after he defeats his opponent, more gladiators surprise him and he has to fight them to the death too. I’ve already discussed everything wrong with this scene in a review of a different movie. (What makes this even worse is in a later scene, Tyrannus correctly describes how a Thracian gladiator is equipped.)
Then we cut to the ‘Vestal Temple’, where Camane (Emily Blunt), a virgin priestess, is praying in front of what is clearly a statue of naked Aphrodite, which is sort of like having a statue of a porn star in a Catholic convent. But she’s making a sacrifice of flower petals, so I guess that makes everything chaste. Octavius (Santiago Cabrera) asks her if “her gods” ever answer.
The show also doesn’t care about giving its characters real names. ‘Tyrannus’ is apparently his birth name, and his son is named ‘Piso’, which isn’t even a given name (it’s a cognomen). And what the fuck sort of name is Camane? It doesn’t even sound Latin! And instead of ‘Octavian’ (short for Octavianus), the kid’s name is Octavius.
Then Julius Caesar (Colm Fiore) asks Tyrannus to be his personal bodyguard, overlooking the fact that he has guys like Mark Antony to protect him, and also overlooking the fact that in 44 BC, Caesar is the dictator, which comes with a staff of 24 lictors, who were also essentially bodyguards.
We’re only 20 minutes into this thing and I already I hate it.
Then Camane milks the ceremonial goats (wtf!) and they give only blood, which means bad things are coming. She has to warn Caesar for some reason, but the Chief Vestal tells her to forget what she’s seen, maybe because she knows there’s no such thing as ceremonial goats.
Then Piso’s mother buys something for “three cents” and it becomes clear that the film isn’t even trying. Piso disappears in the market place, and I see a whole lot of manpain coming for Tyrannus.
The Praetorian Guard exists, even though it won’t be created until there are emperors, since its job is to protect the emperor. Camane warns Caesar, but he declares that he’s lived his whole life in defiance of the gods, so he’s going to ignore the omen. Then he gets into a positively absurd-looking carriage with pillars, a couple centuries before the first thing that might be called a carriage will be invented.
Tyrannus is running around the marketplace looking for Piso, because Caesar, having commissioned him to be his bodyguard, has promptly left Rome without him.
Victor, could you make another generous donation? I think this miniseries qualifies for hazardous duty pay.
Then the Senate gaks Caesar and the assassins who are trying to kill Tyrannus tell him that it was all a distraction, which is really nice of them if you come to think of it, because it means he can run to the Senate house and find Caesar dying, who tells him to protect Octavius. And then Mark Antony (Vincent Regan) shows up and claims Caesar’s crown.
Mark Antony is pissed because the senators asked to shake his hand without washing the blood off theirs first. This turns out to be a faux pas on the Senate’s part, because they don’t have an army and Antony does, so they have to raise an army of gladiators, led by General Rapax (Graham McTavish), who you know has to be a bad guy because his name is Rapax.
The show has by this point forgotten that Tyrannus is a slave because he’s just running around freely, giving Piso’s mother money to sail away from Rome, and so on. Having ridden back to Rome to protect Piso and his mother, Tyrannus then has to fight a dozen soldiers/gladiators so he can get horses to ride away on. This show can’t even keep track of its own material from one moment to the next, much less know anything real about stuff that happened 2,000 years ago.
Oh, god, make this stop, please!
Mercifully, this turns out to be the end of the first episode.
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“Octavius” is the more accurate choice, since he was born Gaius Octavius (same as his father etc.) and didn’t become Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus until he was adopted in Caesar’s will.
Shame nothing else about the show is at all accurate!
His adoption occurred before Caesar’s death, so he was already Octavianus by 44.
Having looked into things a bit more deeply, you’re correct. I had been under the impression that he had formally been adopted in 45. But the adoption was posthumous, so Octavius is correct at this point. I’ll clarify that in my next post.
According to Ptolemy, Camane was the name of a city in India, and goats were sacred to Artemis. And, you know, there was a Hellenistic kingdom in India until they were destroyed by the Scythians at the beginning of the first millenium. Maybe she’s a Greco-Indian priestess of Artemis squatting in the House of the Vestals. That would explain both the goats and why the Vestals don’t take her seriously.
“The sacred goats are giving blood instead of milk! We are in grave danger!”
“Look, for the last time, you have to get out of here. We’re a temple, not a hostel.”
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That makes about as much sense as anything else in this show.
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Matt Posner said:
I am guessing that Victor, who paid for this, knew how bad the show was and was hoping for some incredulous mockery. Professor, please keep giving him his money’s worth. 😝
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Matt Oldham said:
I thought the guy who played Tyrannus looked familiar. Mr. Cake had previously played a version of Emperor Nero in the failed Sci-Fi tv pilot “Riverworld” in 2003. The 90 minute pilot was loosely based on the Philip Jose Farmer book series of the same name where people from all times in Earth’s history are reborn after death on an alien planet. The pilot was not picked though a second attempt was done in 2010, that also failed. In the pilot Nero originally introduces himself as “Lucius Domitus Ahenobarbus” which was his name until he was adopted by Claudius. So a Sci-Fi story set on another planet where humans are reborn after death gets a historical detail right!