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Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2005, 07:27 GMT 08:27 UK
Rome drama generates shockwaves
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

TV drama Rome, to hit UK screens in November on BBC Two, is making waves well before broadcast.

Ciaran Hinds in Rome
Irish actor Ciaran Hinds plays Julius Caesar in the series

A co-production between BBC and US cable network HBO, the programme recreates Julius Caesar's rise to power and the birth of the Roman Empire on a scale unthinkable 30 years ago when 70s hit I, Claudius was made.

But the show's explicit sex and violence has already provoked complaints.

Tory MP and Express columnist Anne Widdicombe hs already called it a "feast of decadence" and more "akin to a porn movie".

There has also been concern expressed that the show will start at 9pm, only just after the watershed, with a children's version already re-cut for Italy.

An opening battle scene recalls the ferocity of Ridley Scott's Gladiator, followed by a sex scene that would not have looked out of place in the notorious 1979 film version of Caligula.

Kevin McKidd in Rome
Kevin McKidd plays a legionary caught up in great events
Those who do not switch off in disgust will be treated to a flogging, a crucifixion, numerous deaths and an impalement.

Before the first episode is over, they will see actress Polly Walker drenched in blood after a simulated animal sacrifice.

Jane Tranter, the BBC's controller of drama commissioning, insisted such graphic scenes were not arbitrary.

"Every time there is a moment of sex and violence, it is there to tell a story," she said.

"It's never gratuitous or stuck on, but absolutely embedded in character and plot."

Lindsay Duncan, who plays Caesar's erstwhile lover Servilia, said: "The Romans had a completely different set of moral values.

"Our aim was to view their world through a modern lens, but without our moral considerations."

"We're showing Rome the way it was," added James Purefoy, who plays an ambitious and sexually promiscuous Mark Antony.

"This was a pre-Christian, pagan society."

'Thrilling'

The British actor's attitudes do not extend to letting his eight-year-old son stay up after the watershed to see his father in action.

"It's too violent, the sex scenes are too graphic, and it's on after 2100," he told the BBC News website.

"I'd let him watch it when he's 12 or 13, when he's a bit more comfortable about sexuality and stuff."

Co-creator and executive producer Bruno Heller added: "I hope it [the show] is shocking. You can't understand that period of history unless it shocks you somewhat."

The writer believes Rome's pagan world of life-and-death combat, ritualised sacrifice and orgiastic copulation is not as far removed from our own society as some would like to believe.

"We don't have gladiatorial arenas, but sex and violence is as much a part of the entertainment world as it was then.

"The Romans had a much more direct, unashamed attitude towards these things. To be true to the period we had to show that."

Polly Walker in Rome
Viewers will see actress Polly Walker drenched in bull's blood
Shot in Rome's Cinecitta studios on the world's largest standing set, featuring hundreds of actors wearing more than 4,000 pieces of wardrobe, the scale of the series is more akin to a feature film than a TV series.

"It was thrilling, absolutely thrilling the first time you walked onto that set," says actor Ciaran Hinds, whose role as Caesar extends from his conquering of Gaul in the first episode to his assassination in the 11th.

"It was never less than a challenge, but it was a huge, exciting project. A part of me will miss not being in the next series."

And a second series there will definitely be, and potentially another after that. James Purefoy has committed himself for the next six years.

"It's a 10,000-piece jigsaw, and every piece matters," he says.

"The people who stick with it are in for a heck of a ride."

Rome has already screened in the US. it will be broadcast on BBC Two on 2 November at 2100 GMT.


SEE ALSO
BBC backs its explicit Rome epic
17 Oct 05 |  Entertainment
TV 'may get cinema-style ratings'
02 Jun 04 |  Entertainment
Epic Roman drama unveiled
27 Oct 03 |  Entertainment

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