Britannia, Sky Atlantic season 1 episode 1 review: Romans v. Celts drama tries a little too hard to be Game of Thrones

There are times when it feels like Carry On: Up to Westeros

Christopher Hooton
Wednesday 17 January 2018 21:39
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Official trailer for Britannia

Look, I don't blame Sky Atlantic for trying to make their own Game of Thrones given how the HBO import has been far and away its main ballast for years now, but it's a shame they went for such a craven derivative.

Comparisons to the world-entrancing GoT are widespread these days and often lazy, cropping up whenever a show is set before the 17th century and/or involves close combat, but that's not the case here, Britannia bearing all the hallmarks of the show beyond just the main premise, from the toilet humour to the curmudgeonly swearing and suspicious magic. One of the Celtic teen characters is even nameless; that's right, 'a girl has no name', and in episode one we see her under the wing of a reluctant, angry old man not that dissimilar in personality to The Hound.

It's 43AD in Britain and the Imperial Roman Army is daring to return to the land Caesar feared to tread. This conflict is told from the perspectives of a Roman soldier forced into the army and about ready to desert it, an aforementioned girl who is the only person in her village to survive the the army's raid, and a Roman general (played by David Morrissey, who feels out of his depth here in the role of a callous, commanding general).

There's a lot of characters and situations to take in in the opening episode (you won't be remembering any names for a while) and that's what you want from a pilot for this kind of show - all the pieces gleaming on the chessboard - but none of the elements are likely to grab you particularly (except for the oddly prevalent use of hallucinogenic drugs, which is welcome visual fun).

Production and CGI-wise, Britannia can't, obviously, live up to the Game of Thrones standard now expected - a drone camera wobble here, an oddly lit battlefield tent there - and the show doesn't quite have that sheen that makes you believe a warrior is there in that field and in that period, sometimes falling into that trap of looking as though it's a cosplayer lost somewhere off the M3.

This is completely forgivable given the relatively diminutive budget, but the same does not excuse the script, which is a bit disappointing from Jez Butterworth (Spectre, Black Mass, Edge of Tomorrow), full of questions being answered with anecdotes, allegories and metaphors - a Game of Thrones staple - but executed in a less compelling fashion. The humour, meanwhile, doesn't balance out the violence but jars with it, and Julian Rhind-Tutt's character, with his 21st-century delivery and turn of phrase, has shades of Carry On.

The casual watcher will find enough to sustain them here (cool female archer! Weird, skeletal, permanently high druids!), but, in episode 1 at least, Britannia struggles to prove itself to the American company it keeps on Sky Atlantic.

All episodes of Britannia will be available Thursday 18 January exclusively on Sky Atlantic and TV streaming service NOW TV.

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