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"Rome" The Stolen Eagle (2005)

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

"The Stolen Eagle" is a fine start to an excellent series!

Author: dmyriounis from Greece
14 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Rome" starts its short, remarkable run with "The Stolen Eagle", with every trademark of the average historical drama: hard sex, frequent violence, British accents, conspiracies being hatched in dimly lit chambers, a narration even! But "Rome" is anything but: yes, the setting is there, exquisite production design is there but writing is the real star of the show. Instead of taking the well-known story and letting it unfold in its perfect high-budget package, the writers put a spin on many stories, presenting them in different circumstances, from different points-of-view, reinforced by constant action and with a sensibility that projects the era's morals rather than our own, thus making the series oddly and refreshingly modern! For starters, "The Stolen Eagle" actually has a plot rather than just introducing us to the show's characters in a simple chapter of the story around them, as is the case with most historical shows. This particular episode centers on Caesar's attempt to entice Pompey to war without being seen to, a plot that is unavoidably interwoven with the fate of the Republic and a dozen other characters, both patricians and plebes.

We are very early acquainted with most roles in "Rome" and by first glance, they feel somewhat recognizable: Caesar and Pompey each have scenes of megalomania and emotion and both differ sufficiently while at the same time sharing many similarities, we get only a glimpse of a very arrogant, extravagant, vulgar Mark Antony, we have the compulsory manipulative, lustful Roman widow-schemer in Atia and the relatable duo of soldiers in Pullo and Vorenus. Over the course of the series all of these roles will expand and develop in shocking and magnificent ways but even from "The Stolen Eagle" it is apparent the show's lucky to have such a cast: Ciaran Hinds plays a very original Caesar, always alert but calm, Ray Stevenson and Kevin McKidd ground two extremely well-matched characters, Kenneth Cranham is excellent as the rather old-school, seemingly benevolent Pompey who seems to linger on military triumphs of the past and Polly Walker is a force of nature as the fierce social climber Atia. Max Pirkis, Kerry Condon, Lindsay Duncan and Tobias Menzies put in some cameos but their roles will be among those which flower substantially. My favorite moment from the episode though has to come from David Bamber's serpentine Cicero: he silences the Senate so that Pompey can speak, only to usurp his right and make his point instead! Direction by Michael Apted is stable and assured, dynamic and energetic especially in the aptly lit battle scenes. Production design and set dressing are especially evident in the enormity of the Roman camp and the Forum and my favorite shot of the episode has to be of the scorched field that once played host to the Roman military establishment!

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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

The Empire Begins

Author: kermitthefrog594 from Australia
27 July 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Eager to return to Rome after eight long years of war, Gaius Julius Caesar ends his campaign with a resounding triumph in Gaul - and news of a shattering personal loss at home. In Rome, Caesar's old friend Pompey is counselled by the Senate, who worry about Caesar's growing popularity. Two soldiers are enlisted to find the army's stolen gold standard. Atia is careful to play both sides of an escalating power struggle.

Rome is nothing if not ambitious. And from the first few moments, you can't help but by overwhelmed by this magnus opus. It is, to coin a phrase, "bigger than Ben-Hur". It revolves around three major plots, which I assume will be the big stories for the season. the first: the life of Julius Caesar, and his battle with the Roman Senate. The second: the story of a family in the ruling family of the Julii. The third: the story of a Roman legionnaire, upon his return to his family after years of separation.

The purpose of a pilot is to hook viewers on this new universe (though, arguably, this world is thousands of years old). And, in that respect, it is an unmitigated success. I'd almost compare it to The Tudors with its highly visceral, sexualised atmosphere in retelling a historical story. But it's also similar to The Wire - though not as dense, if one isn't paying attention, you're almost certain to get lost somewhere along the line. This is undoubtedly the reason the series got cancelled in its second season (or high production values, which one gets from the first thirty seconds).

Unlike The Tudors, we have a cast of charismatic characters with which we can invest in. Julius Caesar, as played by Ciarin Hinds, is a captivating, conquering aristocrat with innovative ideas, and a primordial drive for dominance. You fear him, but can't help but look at him in awe. Servilla, as played by Lindsey Duncan (best known for Doctor Who, though Traffik was her better work), is Caesar's lover, and a staunch aristocrat. A pair of equals if ever there was one. The Tudors has Jonathan Rhys-Meyers sneering and Natalie Dormer looking pretty. This is a real power couple. Not to mention James Purefoy as Mark Antony. He deserves mention too.

During this episode, Pompey - co-counsel of the Roman senate - takes action against Caesar after their last alliance crumbles. Caesar's daughter and Pompey's wife dies during childbirth. Atia, Caesar's niece and a ruthless power-player, sends her young son, Octavian, to Caesar's side. She even presents her daughter Octavia to Pompey as a gift, to be his new bride. Though men rule the ancient land of Rome, Atia is one of the shadow rulers - the powerful woman behind the strong man. Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) are sent to retrieve Caesar's golden eagle. Meanwhile, the 13th Legion leaves Gaul and marches for Rome.

The build up is subtle. But by the end, it has your attention. And you (and I) definitely want to watch the next episode. It's a fantastic spectacle, though it's obvious things are just getting started. The characters don't have much conflict, sadly, but the build up of pressure leading to conflict is used well, and serves to offer great character moments that allow each new character to introduce themself. The battle at the beginning felt a bit short, but was suitably intense and brutal. My only question: why the hell was this cancelled?!

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The beginning of the end of the Roman Republic

Author: Tweekums from United Kingdom
25 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As this series opens Rome is still a republic but two men dominate and there is a fear that either could declare themselves king. These are Pompey Magnus in Rome and his friend Gaius Julius Caesar who is in Gaul; the latter may have been away for years but his victories and the treasures he sends back to Rome makes him popular with the common people of the city. As Caesar's popularity rises some in Rome advise Pompey to move against him; he refuses to do so… publicly at least. In Gaul local tribesman have stolen Caesar's Eagle, the standard his army marches behind, leading to unrest amongst the soldiers. Caesar gives the job of finding it to Centurion Lucius Vorenus and he selects soldier Titus Pullo to accompany him; Pullo isn't a model soldier; in fact when selected he is awaiting execution for drunkenness in battle! Meanwhile Caesar's Niece, Atia of the Julii has sent her son Octavius to Gaul to deliver a magnificent stallion to her uncle; unfortunately he is captured by the locals… no points for guessing who rescues him.

This HBO/BBC co-production is an exciting telling of the rise of Julius Caesar. There are plenty of main characters to get to know but not too many. The story in this episode nicely combines fact based drama with imagined actions that serve to introduce the cast. Most of the protagonists are senior people and their relatives but we also have Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo representing more ordinary people so we can see the unfolding story as it affects different parts of society. The cast does an impressive job making us believe in their characters and their situation. The sets are impressive; they have a 'real' feel to them rather than looking like obvious film sets.

This telling of the story of ancient Rome won't be to everybody's taste; there is a fair amount of strong bloody violence that may disturb some viewers and nudity which may offend others; however if you aren't put off by this I'd recommend watching this series. This is a great opening episode that got me keen to watch the rest of the series.

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Historical feast for the eyes

Author: R Max from Ireland
3 April 2015

This is the episode and series that first brought HBO to my attention and won my admiration. 'Rome' is an absolute triumph of television.

If like me, you are a Roman history fanatic, you will find no other movie, TV or visual representation of any kind that even comes close to equaling the visual splendor, historical accuracy, and entertainment magnificence of HBO's 'Rome'. And this is my attempt to restrain my praise. I've watched and re-watched this entire series at least 5 times and intend to keep watching. I need my 'Rome' fix at least once per year.

But don't for a second think that the story holds less promise than the visual perfection. You cannot get a richer, more captivating true story than that of the life of Julius Caesar. The script writers went a step further and wove in the characters of Vorenus and Titus Pullo around whom the historical context revolves. And they are superb characters who, while fictionalized, are still based on real individuals mentioned in the writings of Caesar himself. The opening battle scene with Vorenus and Pullo on the front line mirrors quite closely what Caesar wrote about them in 'The Gallic War'.

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1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Top notch visuals and acting ; twisted story and characters ; captivating historical period and irresistible entertainment

Author: igoatabase from France
20 December 2009

Back when its first season was airing Rome was praised for its high-end and polished production. But this episode also proved the show had more to offer than impressive sets and well designed costumes. So beside a believable Ancient Rome the story was also quite interesting and intriguing. The Stolen Eagle arc was just an excuse to introduce us to the numerous and charismatic characters. However it was far from anecdotic as the events developed connections and gave birth to new relationships. Of course it focused on the two male protagonists but the other characters also had an important role to play. It was fascinating to see what some of them were capable of doing to meet their own agenda, even manipulating their loved ones and betraying supposed great friends. In some way they reminded me of the show The Tudors but I found the acting more convincing and their stories far less superficial.

The battle at the beginning was intense and brutal but too short and less bloody than in films like Braveheart. However I didn't mind its graphic violence level as it was more about covering the fundamental differences between the protagonists. One acted more like a happy drunken berserker, the other was more rational and responsible. In fact the contrast between them was also palpable in other elements. For example the dialogs weren't all black and white as they offered a second lecture to the careful viewers. One minute some character was defending the Republic, the next it was setting traps against it. In one scene it was also brilliant to use a young boy to lecture two veteran soldiers about what was really going on. So it wasn't just about the physical strength, it was also a lot about the mind, education and strategy. An other scene I really enjoyed was the one where the Eagle was actually stolen. It was dark, dynamic, unexpected and nearly mystic. In fact it wasn't the only one and a few others should surprise you as well. After all the astonishing opening credits revealed the Ancient Rome was a lot about rituals and myths. Let's also not forget the gorgeous women, gladiatorous men and other homages to Dionysus.

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4 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

The foundations of a power struggle seesaw are laid

Author: Xerces88 from Australia
22 January 2008

Firstly, I have no interest in accents or historical accuracy.

The aspect of Rome that stood out the most were the sets. The art direction and attention to detail are magnificent.

While that is probably a bad thing; I have always respected television shows that feel they need to put money into sets and detail.

Judging by the pilot, the story that will run throughout the duration of the series will be the power struggle between Gaius Julius Caesar, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus.

Rome is governed equally between these two men. Ceaser has been away at war in Gaul for eight years and has gained popularity due to his success. Pompeius is threatened and jealous and wishes to throw Ceaser out of government. The struggle begins.

My biggest problem with the pilot is the dialogue. I found it extremely amateur, many lines were dull or cringe worthy.

However the pilot kept my attention and I will give Rome a few more episodes to improve.

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4 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

An eye-popping but slightly excessive introductory episode

Author: Max_cinefilo89 from Italy
11 March 2008

What Deadwood did for the Western, Rome was supposed to do for the epics: revisit the genre and reveal the murkier side big movies like Spartacus had only hinted at. The most obvious comparison would be Gladiator, arguably the only swords-and-sandals flick to show ancient Rome as it really was: a decadent city, filled with whores, brutes and bloodshed. HBO's serialization of the birth of the Roman Empire (the show was canceled after depicting the battle that led to the downfall of the Republic) aimed to tell this gory tale in an intelligent, yet entertaining way, and for the most part it succeeded admirably, despite some gratuitous excess in the first few episodes, especially the opening one.

Then again, what was to be expected when The Stolen Eagle deals with the final stages of the Gallic Wars, the conflict that brought Julius Caesar (Ciaràn Hinds) to everlasting fame? The episode begins with the concluding battle between Romans and Gauls, one that gives Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) one more triumph to brag about when he returns home and sends the brutal, vulgar Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) to prison for insubordination. On the flip-side, Caesar learns his only daughter, Julia, died in childbirth, a fact that gets even worse considering her husband was Pompey (Kenneth Cranham), Caesar's political ally and friend, not to mention the only man capable of preventing the Senate from declaring the Roman conqueror a public enemy. The bad air generated by this set of events is already being felt in the great city, as Caesar's niece Atia (Polly Walker) already thinks of making new influential friends. When she isn't busy having sex with as many men as possible, that is.

It is that last element that caused controversy when Rome originally aired on BBC, alongside a few excessively violent bits. Not that flesh and blood are always bad: it just depends on how they are used within the series. In the case of HBO masterworks like The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Deadwood, explicit sex and graphic blood-letting serve the story and add dramatic poignancy, whereas in Sex and the City, well… it's just funny. In the first episode of Rome, however, it is hard to justify the full frontal nude scenes of Polly Walker, other wise terrific in her vicious portrayal of Atia, since they do nothing at all to move the story forward or establish her character (okay, maybe they are necessary in order to prove she is a slut, but there are better ways to achieve that goal). As for the violence, a similar remark is needed for the utterly gratuitous close-up of a decapitated bull, with blood flowing freely all over a young girl's body: that sequence has no narrative relevance at all, and constitutes nothing more than gore for its own sake. It also robs the key players of screen time they so richly deserve, especially Hinds, whose wounded yet powerful take on Caesar is the best celluloid incarnation of the character so far, and James Purefoy, gleefully malevolent as the scheming Mark Antony. McKidd and Stevenson make a convincing leading duo as well, although the first show doesn't give them many chances to interact properly.

Thankfully, the not-so-perfect storytelling in this debut hour is compensated by state-of-the-art visuals: the marvelous production design (all actual sets, based in Cinecittà, a famous studio located, fittingly enough, just outside Rome) and gorgeous costumes make the seductive looks of Gladiator seem amateurish, fully justifying the show's huge budget (some reports indicate it is the most expensive series ever produced as of 2007). With several feasts for the eye and an intriguing story to stimulate the mind, Rome is flawed (at least in the first half of the season) but also good enough to ensure viewers won't be annoyed, assuming the overblown carnage of early episodes doesn't strike them too hard in the gut.

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4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

The beginning of the end for the Republic

Author: george karpouzas
30 April 2007

I watched this first episode just after I had watched four episodes of the BBC docu-fiction series about the Roman empire in general. I do not think it is easy to make a comparison since the BBC series tries to highlight certain important personalities and eras of the Western Roman world through out its history while Rome develops the personal history of a certain cast of characters during the final years of the Republic just before the emergence of the Principate. The opening titles of the series is impressive as well as character development which tries to have a "real" flavour.And one important detail Rome is much more sexually explicit than the BBC series which means that it will fare better commercially.

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0 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

Gratuitous pornography...

Author: floyd beck from United States
28 July 2014

It is sad that a seemingly very good mini-series, at least for the first 10 minutes, hits one in the face with vivid pornography like I used to find as a young teenager in a dark basement with a secret 8mm film. The show is supposed to show Rome how it was and as a historian of ancient near eastern history, it did seem rather accurate. The costuming is very vivid and often colorful. The hair styles are mostly accurate and not like some movies, especially those about Jesus, where men are pictured as wearing long hair. The men of that era actually wore short hair, per the statues that still exist today and the teachings of the New Testament which concur. All of this to say that the show is sexual 'in- your-face' filth after a few minutes and absolutely unnecessary. Sorry, but I could not continue to watch.

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