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The story is set in Rome around 44 B.C., just after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Octavius, aged 17, who was named heir by Caesar, is challenged by Marc Anthony. A civil war ensues, ending in a showdown between Octavius and Marc Anthony.Written by
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Watching and taking EMPIRE seriously after having seen ROME is a near impossibility. EMPIRE is a TV miniseries charting the rise to power of Julius Caesar's nephew, Octavius (isn't it Octavian?), in much the same way that ROME did, except the two productions are totally at odds. ROME was lavish, expensive, expertly made and very well written. EMPIRE is silly, generic and more often than not, derivative.
The main source of inspiration is Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR, thus we have the presence of a gladiator in the leading role. It's not just that Tyrannus is out of place - what's a gladiator doing having one-to-ones with Caesar, for goodness' sake? - it's that he's so bland. The producers picked a good-looking guy to make the housewives swoon and do zilch with his character for the entire running time. It makes for a highly boring production. His character arc is non-existence and he feels like a male model simply acting as a clothes horse throughout.
Not that the rest is much good, either. I'm no stickler for historical accuracy, I'd rather a historical series or movie be entertaining rather than realistic and deathly dull. But EMPIRE takes the biscuit, throwing in sub-plot after sub-plot that never happened, and ludicrous situations like a romance with a Vestal Virgin. There's far too much senseless combat featuring the aforementioned gladiator hacking his way through various foes, and of course as this is a TV production there's no real sex or violence to offend anybody.
Some of the cast members ARE good, it's just that their characters aren't. Vincent Regan was excellent in 300, but his Mark Antony seems a bit impotent, lacking in menace and failing to be larger than life as the role requires. James Frain seems to be doing a dry run for his turn in THE TUDORS but is underutilised, as are Michael Maloney (TRULY MADLY DEEPLY), Michael Byrne and RAMBO's Graham McTavish. The women fare less well: Emily Blunt, on the cusp of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA and stardom, fails to convince and the horrendous Trudie Styler is little more than a walking advert for Botox (who knew the Romans invented it?). The effeminate Santiago Cabrera might as well be listed under the female parts, so weak and weedy is he.
Lack of a decent budget means that there are no real set-pieces or memorable moments, just a couple of CGI-enhanced backdrops here and there. However, the production does seem to have been made in Italy with an Italian supporting cast and crew, which counts for something, and the episodes are fast paced and have stuff going on. It's just a shame that the stuff that does happen is so familiar, made up, and derivative of what's come before. This TV stuff can be good - I liked the recent version of BEN HUR for instance - but EMPIRE misses the mark by quite a bit.
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