For most of Britannia’s 9 episodes, this tonally confused show jumps between historical drama and all out fantasy epic whilst blending an awkward mix of modern and ancient dialogue full of historical inaccuracies and ill-timed jokes. Once Britannia settles into a rhythm, this visually stunning show does improve slightly but a distinct lack of big action and a cliffhanger ending act as the icing on a cake of disappointment.
The story begins with the Roman Army in 43AD. After fleeing years prior, leader Aulus (David Morrissey) decides to go back to the Celtic heart of Britannia and claim back control. Once there, the Romans uncover a strange land ruled by druids who control the population under a reign of fear and bloodshed whilst conjuring magic and all manner of supernatural trickery. Whilst the conflict between the Romans and the druid grows, the story skips between Aulus, Kerra (Kelly Reilly), rebellious daughter of one of the Celtic clans and Cait (Eleanor Worthington-Cox), a little girl searching for her Father alongside outcast bandit Divis (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). Alll three story lines converge toward the latter period of the series and although the plot line unfolds nicely and features a good blend of mystery and fantasy, the characterisation, dialogue and action are not so fortunate.
Long, expository fuelled speeches and over-acted, wooden dialogue plague many of the scenes. The multiple different dialects range from cockney London to the West country through to a weird blend of modern and ancient dialogue and clash badly, destroying any believability that this is a show set in ancient times. The misplaced comedy feels like a cheap imitation of Game Of Thrones with its ill-timed and unnecessary toilet humour. At times it’s not even subtle; “Have you been for a dump today?” Aurus sniggers to a character early on, “Have you noticed I can’t go more than 50 paces without going for a crap?” another retorts late on and this relentless, tired attempt to provoke laughs through cheap toilet humour takes away from the mythological intrigue and fantasy elements that make this show so interesting and different. If Britannia had focused more on this instead of imitating Game Of Thrones there’s potential for a great historical drama but its squandered through questionable decisions in the dialect and direction of the show.
There’s no denying that the costume design and visuals for the series are exemplary. Face paints, colourful armour and beautiful garments mixed with establishing shots of the breathtaking countryside and set design make for a real visual treat. The saturated colour palette helps with this too, using as many different colours as possible making each scene vibrant and full of life. It’s worth noting too that beyond the Romans landing in Britannia, there’s little to no resemblance to any story in history making this a strictly fictional version of events. Britannia is very much a show marching to its own drum beat and coupled with the weird, jarring dialogue and tonally confused narrative, Britannia has a pretty niche appeal making it a tough watch at times. Considering how different the setting is and the potential this gives the show, its disappointing to see it squandered in such a fashion.
It’s hard to know who Britannia is marketed toward. It’s certainly not for those looking for a Game Of Thrones alternative, nor is it a show for those after a historically accurate drama. It’s poor compared to other fantasy shows and the modern dialogue and colloquialisms littered through the script make it more in line with MTV/Spike’s Shannara Chronicles than any other show. Unlike Chronicles which is clearly geared toward teens, Britannia doesn’t quite know who it wants to please and in trying to broaden its appeal and imitate Game Of Thrones, it actually has the opposite effect. The ill-timed humour and strange blend of modern and ancient dialogue dispels any entertainment had from the excellent visuals and breathtaking vistas. Labelling this the next Game Of Thrones was always going to spell disaster for any show and based on this showing, Thrones doesn’t even need to break a sweat as Britannia fails to present an epic fantasy anywhere near the same level.