Ruthless, vicious 'Rome' to kick off 2nd season
Don't expect the epic's portrayal to be a tame one.
By HAL BOEDEKER
Until "The Sopranos" returns April 8 for its final episodes, HBO will rely on some rough characters who might appall even Tony Soprano.
The ancient schemers of "Rome" start their second -- and final season -- at 9 p.m. Sunday. The political intrigue has turned more chaotic and desperate since the assassination of Julius Caesar ended season one.
A first-rate cast portrays this treachery with verve, but the sheer nastiness of it all can be horrifying. Consider this an adult field trip into a world of betrayals, butchery and bloodbaths.
The great strength of "Rome" in season one was the unlikely friendship of two fictional soldiers: good-guy Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) and rowdy Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson). They grew closer while muddling through confusing times and encountering notable figures.
The new season turns the two men's world upside-down. After seeing his secretive wife fall to her death, Vorenus plunges into dazed grief, then chilling recklessness.
Pullo, revealing a tender side, struggles to save his friend and confides to another, "It's a dark road we're on. No one knows where it will end."
McKidd plays anguish with such wrenching force that "Rome" becomes a rough road to travel. But this series also favors a frank, sarcastic approach to storytelling that's more energetic than old costume dramas, such as "Spartacus" and "Cleopatra," and even the more recent "Gladiator."
The 10 episodes of season two will trace the emergence of Octavian, Caesar's brilliant grandnephew. Two actors -- Max Pirkis, then Simon Woods -- share the role. The young Octavian sees Mark Antony (James Purefoy) as a destructive brute and stands up to him.
In doing that, Octavian also must take on his overbearing mother, Atia (Polly Walker), who is Antony's lover. Antony's fascination with Cleopatra (Lyndsey Marshal) infuriates Atia. Echoing a famous line by Bill Clinton, Antony denies he is involved with the Egyptian queen.
The series will preserve the main historical points as Antony and Cleopatra head to Egypt. But in true "Rome" fashion, the drama also speculates on the nature of that relationship. The series will go places that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor never did in the 1963 epic "Cleopatra."
Atia continues her vicious feud with Servilia (Lindsay Duncan), Caesar's jilted lover. This battle is so chilling that it makes the "Dynasty" bouts between Joan Collins and Linda Evans look like playground spats.
Lavish and lurid, "Rome" is an audacious epic about ruthless people. "The Sopranos" could learn a few things from them.
"Rome" contains extreme violence, sexual situations and themes, drug use, coarse language.