Britannia is a new fantasy series that comes as part of a join venture between Amazon and Sky Atlantic (it debuted on January 26th in the States and on January 18th in Britain). The series follows the Roman general Aulus Plautius (played by David Morrissey) who arrives in Britain in 43 AD with plans of extending Rome’s influence into the lands that Julius Caesar fled from in years prior. But he must contend with the mysterious Druids led by the “second man” Veran (brought to life creepily by Mackenzie Crook) as well as the warring Cantii and Regni clans led by King Pellinor (Ian McDiarmid) and Queen Antedia (Zoë Wanamaker) respectively. Also impacting Aulus’ plans are two people that are part of a prophecy relating to the fate of Britannia, the young girl Cait (Eleanor Worthington Cox) and the cast out druid Divis (Nikolaj Lie Kaas).
Britannia is definitely epic in scope and certainly goes for a Game of Thrones vibe, though it does not quite meet the bar set by that acclaimed series. Not that it is a bad show, but it quite obviously tries to follow in the path of GoT with its grand story, many factions, expanded cast, and moral quandaries, but may leave some viewers wanting a bit more to chew on. Give it credit for not trying to create Westeros 2.0, though, as it delves into celtic history and mythology and establishes its own, fairly well-defined world. And the show is an enjoyable enough watch even if it does bog down from time to time over its nine-episode first season run.
Morrissey definitely holds his own amidst this cast of many and shows some depth that his role as The Governor on The Walking Dead never allowed him to explore. He starts off very much in scenery-chewing mode, but settles into the role after a couple of episodes and allows his rather complex character to slowly unfold. Kelly Reilly goes toe-to-toe with Morrissey as the show’s females lead Kerra, a warrior woman who has a level of responsibility cast on her that she does not expect or necessarily want. But the stand-out performances in the show come from Eleanor Worthington Cox and Nikolaj Lie Kaas who play the pair at the focus of a prophecy. Cait is certainly a spiritual cousin to Lyanna Mormont and Divis starts out seeming like the village outcast but reveals that there is dark and tragic side to his character. Together they have a palpable chemistry and their verbal sparring is great fun.
SPOILERS AHEAD! Skip this paragraph to avoid. I did take issue with the one major death that occurred in the final episode. Killing off Kerra is certainly this show’s Ned Stark-type turn, but it didn’t quite have the same impact. Ned Stark had such an important role from the beginning of Game of Thrones, and when he died it showed that following the path of honor and right is not the way to survive in the land of Westeros politics. His death then carried over into the rest of the story as Ned lives on through the example he set for his children and they struggle with doing the right thing vs. what is expedient. Kerra, however, seemed to be batted around by controlling forces beyond her power, and the importance of her character was not established well enough beyond Kelly Reilly’s stand out performance. So ultimately, her death seemed to be used for shock factor instead of advancing the story; something that has become all to prevalent with serialized television these days. It is possible she could return in Obi Wan fashion, considering the magic and mysticism present in that world, and perhaps redeem the character. But at this point, her death just seemed empty.
Ultimately, Britannia definitely has promise and could develop into a decent fantasy series over time. That’s assuming that Amazon will give it that time as the streaming service has two more epic fantasy shows in the works in their Lord of the Rings prequel and just-announced Conan series. As mentioned above, Britannia comes as part of a partnership with Sky Atlantic, so perhaps that will help keep it going and it definitely has a strong British feel so it may have more appeal to audiences across the Atlantic. It is worth a look for fantasy fans, especially those looking for something to fill the void while waiting for the final season of Game of Thrones. It doesn’t quite match up to the accomplishments of that series, but it doesn’t have to in order to be considered a decent genre entry.
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