Ciaran Hinds, Kevin McKidd and Lindsay Duncan
head the cast of HBO/BBC epic series Rome
- this autumn on BBC TWO
Ciaran Hinds, Kevin McKidd and Lindsay
Duncan head a cast of top British acting talent in Rome,
the HBO/BBC blockbuster epic drama series that chronicles the rise of
the ancient Roman Empire through the eyes of two foot-soldiers.
Ciaran Hinds (Road To Perdition, Miami Vice) stars
as Gaius Julius Caesar, the battle-weary commander of Rome's conquering
army in Gaul; Kevin KcKidd (The Virgin Queen, Kingdom of Heaven) is
Lucius Vorenus, one of the two foot-soldiers around whom the drama unfolds.
Ray Stevenson (King Arthur) is the
headstrong legionary Titus Pullo, Vorenus's battlefield cohort;
James Purefoy (Vanity Fair) is Mark Antony, one of Caesar's
powerful political allies; Lindsay Duncan (Shooting The Past, Under
The Tuscan Sun) is Servilia, the lover of Caesar and mother of Brutus,
Caesar's nemesis; Polly Walker (State of Play, Patriot
Games) is Atia, the powerful, manipulative and sexy niece of Caesar.
Kerry Condon (Angela's Ashes) is Octavia,
the daughter of Atia, who is forced to choose duty over love; Max
Pirkis (Master And Commander) is Gaius Octavian, who becomes
the first Emperor of Rome; and Indira Varma (The Canterbury
Tales) is Niobe, Vorenus's stunningly beautiful wife.
Rome is a co-production between HBO and the BBC. The
11-part series was shot in Rome, with British director Michael
Apted (The World Is Not Enough) directing the first two episodes.
Rome began shooting with an international crew of 350,
at the legendary movie studios of Cinecitta in Rome, in March 2004 -
and the last reel was in the can by May 2005.
It was a mammoth undertaking that was filmed on a five-acre
'backlot', with six further soundstages, designed by British designer
Joseph Bennett and constructed by Italian craftsmen.
The writer is British screenwriter Bruno Heller, who is also co-creator and an executive producer on the drama.
The project is a cross-genre collaboration for the BBC,
with Jonathan Stamp, formerly a BBC executive producer for history and
archaeology, as a consultant on the series.
Rome, the saga of two ordinary Roman soldiers and their
families, looks at the birth of the Roman Empire through the eyes of
ordinary citizens, as well as famous historical figures such as Julius
Caesar, Mark Antony and Rome's first Emperor, Octavian.
It is an intimate drama of love and betrayal, masters
and slaves, husbands and wives; it portrays a fascinating and influential
period of history - the birth of a modern society as we know it today
- and brings the audience vividly into everyday Roman life.
Rome is the largest co-production
deal ever made by the BBC for an American series, and the partnership
with HBO marks the first series co-production of the two internationally-renowned
television production houses.
The BBC had previously been associated with HBO on
the Emmy award-winning series Band
of Brothers, and the Emmy award-winning film The
Jane Tranter, BBC Controller of Drama Commissioning,
says: "We've been developing this project with HBO for some time and
we're delighted that Rome has now come to fruition as our first co-production.
"Rome is a powerful story and, alongside The
Lost Prince, State of Play, Canterbury Tales, Charles II, Hustle, Gunpowder,
Treason and Plot and To
The Ends of the Earth, it is another example of our
ambition to create the boldest, most original and engaging events on
"When I first met HBO executive producer Anne Thomopoulos
about five years ago, we both talked about our love of the BBC series
I, Claudius and she said that HBO was looking to develop something in
"By coincidence, we were also about to develop
something Roman, and when I was in Los Angeles a year later she gave
me a script of Rome.
"It was clear in the first episode that writer Bruno
Heller's take on the world of ancient Rome was really interesting. It
was very similar to our home-grown BBC pieces on historical drama.
"For example, Adrian Hodges on Charles II put the
man at the heart of it, the man who was weak, who tried to be a good
husband, tried to be a good lover, tried to be a good friend and a good
king. It brought the monarchy very near and real, rather than put it
on a pedestal.
"It's also very similar to what Paula Milne has
written for our production of The Virgin
Queen about Elizabeth I, in which she's almost painted
her as Margaret Thatcher.
"Bruno had clearly made the Roman aristocracy - Julius
Caesar, Pompey, Atia - feel like they were part of a 'grand guignol'
drama. We would be entertained by these characters and we could recognise
"In the two legionnaires, Pullo and Vorenus, Bruno
created fictitious characters out of the names he found in his historical
"It rooted the whole thing, in a not dissimilar
way to Robert Graves' device of using Claudius as the human narrator
of the appalling antics that were going on at that particular period
of Roman history.
"Bruno has interweaved the human stories of Pullo
and Vorenus into the lives of the Roman upper classes, so we get to
see ancient Roman society as a whole."
The BBC is internationally renowned for its drama, particularly
for its award-winning period productions.
Says Tranter: "It felt like something that could have
been developed by us and HBO felt like natural partners for the BBC.
"We knew they wanted to use British actors some
British directors and Bruno is British. It felt like a good thing for
us to do - huge, epic and ambitious and not the sort of thing we'd ever
be able to do on this scale on our own."
The impressive scale of making Rome - in terms of budget,
set design, costumes, cast, crew, and the actual filming - has made
it much closer to a feature film production than a television series.
Continues Tranter: "We did commit a substantial budget
but what you get on screen represents incredibly good value for money
for the licence fee payer.
"I think the production values in Rome are extraordinary:
they are as high as you would get in a feature film."
Given the international success of HBO, including its
Emmy award-winning series The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Sex And The
City, having a co-production partner for Rome would not appear to be
an essential factor in getting the series made.
"HBO knew that we'd got a worldwide reputation for
our period historical drama," says Tranter.
"It's the first deep period drama for HBO and I think
they saw us as a natural partnership on Rome. The BBC brand does mean
something in the US and also the HBO brand means something over here.
"We were able to bring to the project the BBC hallmarks
of factual historical authenticity, integrity, class and quality.
"One of the first things that we did, for example, was
ask Jonathan Stamp from the BBC Specialist Factual department to work
with us to ensure that everything in our ancient Rome would be authentic
- whether it was the design of the urns that people were pouring the
wine from, to whether it was how Caesar would have marched on Rome.
"We need it for our audience, particularly for
a BBC TWO audience; for it to have an authentic, realistic feel."
Five years from development to seeing Rome on screen
has been a mammoth task for all concerned.
"I think it's a really powerful piece of work," Tranter
concludes. "The performances are absolutely stunning, the production
values are excellent, the characters are really big television characters.
"It's a fascinating piece of history and offers
a lot to an audience. For those who know the era, they will be really
interested to see it dramatised; and for those who don't know it will
be very entertaining and informative.
"It's a vivid, highly-coloured, highly-charged
drama series. I think it will be a real television event. For me, it's
Ben Hur meets The Sopranos with a touch of Mean Streets thrown in."
Capturing the drama, excitement and reality of ancient
Rome was the responsibility of co-creator, writer and executive producer
"You rarely see on-screen the complexity and colour
that was ancient Rome," he says. "It has more in common with places
like today's Mexico City and Calcutta than quiet white marble.
"Rome was brightly-coloured, a place of vibrant
cruelty, full of energy, dynamism and chaotic filth. It was a merciless
existence, dog-eat-dog, with a very small elite, and masses of poverty.
"We see the same problems today - crime, unemployment,
disease and pressure to preserve your place in a precarious society.
There's the potential for social mobility, if you're smart.
"Human nature never changes," continues Heller, "and
the great thing about the Romans, from a dramatic perspective, is that
they're a people with the fetters taken completely off.
"They had no prosaic God telling them right from
wrong and how to behave. It was a strictly personal morality, and whether
or not an action is wrong would depend on whether people more powerful
than you would approve.
"You were allowed to murder your neighbour or covet
his wife if it didn't piss off the wrong person. Mercy was a weakness,
cruelty a virtue, and all that mattered was personal honour, loyalty
to yourself and your family.
"One of the overarching themes
is that Vorenus is a loyal member of Caesar's 13th Legion, but he cherishes
the old ways of the Republic.
"So he's forced to make a choice between personal
loyalty to a powerful leader, who for all intents and purposes is destroying
the Republic, or to follow his own deeply-held political ideals.
"The other archetypal story is that these men have
been away from home for eight long years. Vorenus is married with children
who've grown up without him. His wife has been looking after herself.
"How do you reconnect with them? How do you go
from war's brutalities to a civilised existence? When you're used to
being in charge, how do you deal with ordinary human interactions when
you can't kill someone who contradicts you?"
Working with the production team is historical consultant
Jonathan Stamp, who was formerly an executive producer in the BBC's
history and archaeology departments.
When the BBC came on as a co-production partner, Stamp
began reviewing the scripts for historical authenticity on an occasional
basis, which eventually became a full-time assignment.
Says Stamp: "We did everything we could to make these
episodes historically authentic, which meant researching and incorporating
every kind of detail we could about the way our characters behaved,
the way they interacted, how they dressed and gestured, the kind of
streets they walked down, the way they conducted their private and public
"We were not, however, making a documentary. We
were striving for authenticity because it enriches the experience of
the drama for the viewer.
"For example, we know that Vorenus and Pullo are
historical figures who were mentioned by name in Caesar's account of
the Gallic wars. Bruno then invented the details of their lives."
While life among the aristocracy is fairly well documented,
there are few direct sources for details about life among the poor and
"It's all about taking little clues and extrapolating
from there. The three sources you have are archaeological, such as the
ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum; throwaway references in literature;
and tomb inscriptions," says Stamp.
"Tomb inscriptions are incredibly important because
everyone had them, regardless of class. People saved money their entire
lives so they could have a funeral. And although the inscriptions are
brief, they're priceless, honest indications of the way things were.
"There's one for a 16-year-old boy that reads,
'Once a slave, now a son'. That speaks volumes about the nature of slavery,
that it wasn't always shackles and cages, although that existed as well.
"So slavery was a diverse phenomenon - some were
chattels, disposable, and some were absorbed into the emotional fabric
of the family and eventually freed.
"Rome of this time was a noisy and bustling metropolis,"
"There's a description in literature where the author's
complaining of not being able to sleep when in Rome, because in the
daytime he describes the noise from the nearby gyms and the street vendors,
and then, instead of quieting at night, it gets worse because all the
traffic starts. Large carts were banned during the day, and all started
up at night."
Living and working in Rome has been of benefit to the
actors as well.
"It's been one of the greatest challenges, but also
a great reward to live here," says Ray Stevenson.
"A challenge because you're relocating your life for
such an extended time, but I can't think of better preparation for the
role than spending time in true Roman bars and coffee shops, away from
the tourists, observing and absorbing contemporary Roman life.
"Pullo is a contemporary character in his world,
and it hasn't changed all that much as far as the way people interact,
talk to each other and gesture."
"It's been fantastic living here," agrees Kevin McKidd.
"It's a way of life that just rubs off on you and makes the performance
that much more authentic.
"And it's been such a rewarding experience to work
with this cast. Just by being here you become a better actor because
everyone's raising the bar for everyone else."
Executive producer Frank Doelger adds: "One of the most remarkable moments I've had on set was watching a scene, and forgetting that I was in ancient Rome.
"The character story was so immediate and wonderfully
realised, it wasn't about the set dressing, props and costumes.
"And I saw then that we'd done exactly what we
wanted to do, which is to take Rome out of the museum and make it as
real and immediate and vital as if we were shooting a contemporary drama."
Rome is a co-production between HBO and the BBC.
Co-creators are John Milius, William J. Macdonald and
Executive producers are Bruno Heller, William J. Macdonald,
John Milius, Anne Thomopoulos and Frank Doelger.
Co-executive producers are Jim Dyer and Eugene Kelly.
Rome is produced by Marco Valerio Pugini. Eleanor Moran is the producer for the BBC, and Michael
Apted is consulting producer.
"Rome is an ingenious amalgam of hard-core
history and yummy soap-opera, with lots of violence and sex. Think of
it as I,Claudius on steroids and Viagra." Newsweek