Rome, the HBO Original Series

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When most people think of the Roman Empire, they remember boring lectures about stark white columns, flowery orations, and maybe a few gladiatorial fights. If this is what you expect from HBO’s series Rome, you will be surprised to see the brightly colored clothing, muddy streets, crowded markets, and wanton debauchery of every social class imaginable. The series is less a lesson in history than it is a picture of the everyday life of the Romans, from senators, to slaves, to soldiers, and to the social elite.

Created by Bruno Heller, Rome was originally conceived as one season detailing the rise and fall of Julius Caesar. The story, however, is mainly seen through the eyes of two of his foot soldiers. Vorenus and Pollo’s life stories are just as complex and appealing as those of the social elite that they fight for and occasionally encounter in other settings. While political families vie for power and scandal arises on a constant basis, the story still centers on Caesar. Although the citizens adore him, the senators see him as a threat and act to remove him by assassinating him on the Senate floor. This is where season one ends. But due to high viewership and demand, HBO renewed Rome for a second season. Picking up where it left off, the families of the Julii and the Junii vie for power and use everything from religious rites, to social scandal, to poison and torture to secure their positions. Vorenus and Pollo’s stories continue as well, and once again they find themselves being used by people in power. Meanwhile, Caesar’s nephew Octavian has risen to the Senate while Mark Antony, once an ally of the Julii family, has tried to seize power for himself. After having been exiled to govern Egypt, Mark Antony falls under the influence of Cleopatra and her opium induced escapades. Together, they plan war on Octavian. But as Octavian, now calling himself Augustus, closes in on them in a pre-emptive strike, they both take their own lives. Augustus is named emperor, and once again the Julian family has risen along with him.

Rome is comprised of an ensemble cast, however, there are some key players in the series. Julius Caesar is played by Ciaran Hinds. The two soldiers, Vorenus and Pollo, are played by Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson. The Julian and Junian matriarchs, Atii and Servilia, are played by Polly Walker and Lindsay Duncan. Atii’s children, Octavia and Octavian (later Augustus) are played by Kerry Condon, Max Pirkis (season one), and Simon Woods (season two). Servilia’s son, Brutus, is played by Tobias Menzies. Mark Antony is played by James Purefoy.

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune said of Rome: “Though every detail of this lush Roman epic feels palpably authentic, history lessons don’t loom overly large; what’s most enjoyable about it is how deftly it mixes soap opera with senatorial debates.” Rome received seven Emmy awards, including Outstanding Art Direction, Outstanding Costumes, Outstanding Hairstyling, Outstanding Special Visual Effects and Outstanding Cinematography.

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