An academic and graphic account of the rule of the famously narcissistic Roman Emperor Commodus, who inherited the Roman Empire from his father, Marcus Aurelius, at the height of its expansion in the second century AD, told over a backdrop of violence, sex, and corruption. Written by
First let me disclose that I turned it off in disgust half an hour into the first episode. I wasn't expecting the attention to detail and convincing characterizations of the "Rome" series, but the sword-and-sandal dramatization here doesn't even make an effort. A few things they got wrong:
Sean Bean intones that the reign of Commodus, in the late second
century, was the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire. Okay, the same nonsense was put about in 1964 when Christopher Plummer played Commodus in "The Fall of the Roman Empire", but it doesn't even approach historical truth. The empire was still vigorous until ca. 400 AD, when a gradual process of disintegration set in.
Gladiators had distinctive equipment, which did NOT include the
legionary shield shown in the opening scene.
The city of Rome is shown at the base of a large mountain range. WTF?
See any atlas.
In the two sex scenes immediately thrown at us, the women clearly
have breast implants and the long flowing hair of modern porn stars. Other women are shown with decolletage and strapless gowns. Roman women simply didn't dress or groom like this.
Commodus drinks wine from glass bottles. Never happened.
All the interiors are lit with candles, even when sunlight is pouring
through a window. Never a glimpse of the far more commonly used oil lamps. And for some reason the soldiers have ringed the emperor's daylight picnic with torches on poles. (Maybe they're trying to keep the mosquitoes down. But one suspects it's more likely due to a mediocre director's instinct to have fire in every scene.)
Cinema Sins would have a field day here. Marcus Aurelius says he will show his son what happens to those who aren't trained with the sword, and then leads him to a smoking (of course) battlefield full of dead Roman soldiers who presumably WERE trained with the sword. Apparently the battle took place during the emperor's lunch, since the looters, burial parties, and carrion birds have not yet arrived.
All this might have been overlooked if the script had been less perfunctory. As it stands, the dramatic segments are no more believable or useful than those scenes of sword-waving that accompany ordinary historical documentaries.
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