'Rome' a Challenge for HBO Empire; $100 Million Toga Drama Mixes History and Fiction

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 26, 2005 | Go to article overview

'Rome' a Challenge for HBO Empire; $100 Million Toga Drama Mixes History and Fiction


Byline: Christian Toto, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Rome wasn't built in a day, but HBO's "Rome" looks like it took decades to create. The pay network reportedly poured $100 million into re-creating the Roman Empire in all its imperfect glory, and viewers can see where every nickel went this weekend.

The promising new drama debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday, with the hopes of the network riding on it. HBO sure could use a breakout hit to make up for such recent ratings disappointments as "K Street," "Carnivale" and "The Comeback."

Even if future episodes match the first installment's sense of wonder and place, it could be a tough sell. Audiences may be burned out on toga epics, witness the less than blockbuster turnout for "Kingdom of Heaven," "King Arthur" and ABC's recent "Empire" miniseries.

"Rome's" first installment does more than set the sumptuous stage. It plants the seeds of bloodshed between long-standing friends Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) and Pompey (Kenneth Cranham), a story arc said to dominate the first season.

"Rome" tells that compelling story alongside a fictional one, that of two soldiers coming home after years of battle.

It's no small feat marrying history and fiction, but the show appears up to the challenge.

The saga opens with Caesar returning to Rome after spending eight years battling, and ultimately conquering, Gaul. His legend has only grown in his absence, but so, too, has the rancor of his foes. Cultural divisions between the poor and the wealthy have intensified in his absence, and many are starting to question the wisdom of Caesar's military adventures.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned soldiers (Kevin McKidd as Lucius Vorenus and Ray Stevenson as Titus Pullo) set off on what seems to be a fool's errand to retrieve Caesar's standard, a golden eagle representing his strength and power. …

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