Historical Timetable that Rome Covers - (From Departures.com)
FROM REPUBLIC TO IMPERIAL ROME
52 B.C As season one of Rome kicks off, Julius Caesar is eradicating the final pockets of Celtic resistance to his legions in Gaul, while his main rival, Pompey, is consolidating his influence over the senatorial party in Rome.
49 B.C After a long stand of with the senate, Caesar takes to arms, crossing the Rubicon with his legions and pronouncing the fateful words "The die is cast." He immediately takes Rome virtually uncontested.
48 B.C At the battle of Pharsalus in Macedonia, Caesar defeats Pompey's troops. Pompey flees to Egypt, where he is put to death on the order of Ptolemy XIII. Arriving in pursuit Caesar falls for the Royal princess and ends up staying twenty months in Egypt.
45 B.C Having assumed the title of dictator for life and the permanent accolade of imperator, Caesaar quells the last of Pompey's supporters at Munda in Spain.
44 B.C On March 15th, the Ides of March, Caesar is killed by a group of conspirators, including his mistress's son Brutus. Into the power vacuum step three men : Mark Antony, Caesar's most loyal lieutenant; Marcus Lepidus; and Gaius Octavian, Caesar's nephew.
42 B.C The forces of the second Triumvirate- an uneasy alliance between Octavian, Antony and Lepidus - crush those of Caesar's assassins, Cassius and Bruttus at Phillippi. Soon after Antony and Cleopatra become lovers.
40 B.C The Empire is divided between the three Triumvirs. Antony marries Octavian's sister Octavia but soon returns to Cleopatra in Egypt.
36 B.C Octavian ends resistance by Sextus Pompeius, who controlled Sicily, Sardinia and most of Italy's Islands, then defeats Lepidus and takes his African provinces.
32 B.C Backed by the senate Octavian declares war on Antony and Cleopatra.
31 B.C Cleopatra and Antony are defeated at the navel battle of Actium, and flee back to Egypt.
30 B.C During Octavian's siege of Alexandria Antony commits suicide upon hearing the rumor that Cleopatra is dead.. When she learns of her lovers death, Cleopatra takes her life as well, after realising there is no other option.
27. B.C Octavian careful not to overturn Rome's republican traditions all at once- has the senate name him Augustus, which is used to indicate a man worthy of veneration. The first step towards outright imperial rule has been taken.
"A Blow To The Temples" (By David Winner,Financial Times.com)
Close your eyes and picture Ancient Rome. What do you see? Eagles, gladiators and white togas, no doubt. Hillsides covered with classical, ivory coloured temples too, probably. Straight lines. Huge crowds. Forests of gleaming white marble columns and statues. A place glowing with what Oliver in Spartacus called, "the might, the majesty, the terror of Rome."
That's the classical Hollywood view. Rome the pale, the pristine, the venerable is an image as old as film itself. And because we get our view of Rome Primarily from the movies, the myth lies at the core of our sense of antiquity, of our sense of history, perhaps even of ourselves.
But what if its all completely wrong? At Rome's fabled Cinecitta studies, the BBC and American TV giants HBO have joined forces to shoot an epic $100m television drama series that aims to topple the Hollywood image and set a new vision in its place.
Simply called Rome, the painstakingly researched show is shaping up as a vast, operatic, Grang Guignol drama. Its epic story will weave the lives of two ordinary Roman foot soldiers with historical celebrities such as Julius Caesar and Pompey in the last few years of the Roman Republic. The show's relatively unknown British Stars - Kevin McKidd, Polly Walker and Ciaran Hinds - are likely to become household names.
In keeping with Ancient Hollywood traditions, Rome will feature intrigue, spectacle and casual brutality. In a radical break with Hollywood traditions, though, it will also be jammed with cliche-bursting surprises. There will be more sex and paganism than we're used to. We'll see Julius Caesar as he really looked during his ceremonial Triumphs (painted head to toe in Jupiter's colour, red.) And Cleopatra will not be a vamp or a demi-goddess, but as Cicero saw her - a dinner party bore.
HBO is putting up most of the money. The first 12 episodes are due to air late this year. So far the shows most spectacular feature is its jaw dropping set, reckoned to be the biggest and most expensive ever built for television. On the backdrop at Cinecitta where Ben Hur's chariot race was filmed and where 500 slaves once dragged Liz Taylor into town atop a giant sphinx for Cleopatra, a spectacular new version of the ancient city has been built of steel and fibreglass.
There's a full scale replica of the forum, a warren of working class streets, markets, villas and gardens. It looks tremendous but also weird, because this Rome is grubby rather than grandiose. Its temples don't shimmer but are dirty and multi coloured. The set is smokey and covered with Latin Graffiti, much of what is obscene. On street corners there are candle strewn shrines and drawings of giant penises. In one street there's a typical Roman toilet : a latrine with holes and planks where men and women sit side by side and use the same fetid sponge as toilet paper. Grass grows between the flagstones on the Via Sacra, there's blood everywhere.
Welcome to the new, realist, authentic Rome : ferel, vivad, jumbled, irregular. "Third World Rome" the shows executives call it.
Production designer Joseph Bennett who built the set says,"People think of Rome as white and cold and beautiful, powerful but distant. But based on research I don't think it was like that at all. If you go to Pompeii your struck by how garish it is, even now. The temples and sculptures were all brightly painted. Rome was like Pompeii, but much bigger. And Rome was so noisy it was impossible to sleep. It was like hell, think of it as a combination of New York and Calcutta, with insane wealth and insane poverty. It was that extreme."
"We've taken everything from scratch" says chief writer and executive producer Bruno Heller. "We are disregarding what people might have seen before and asking : What was it actually like at this moment in history. We're trying to deal with the lives of ordinary people, the details of routine, of everyday life, of unemployment and of disease. And we are trying to be very precise in the historical moment, very precise about the texture of everyday life. Everything flows from that. The forum was a s grand as it got, but it was not by any means, stupendous or stupefying. Once you know that the Tiber flooded regularly and the houses were constantly on fire because they were just made of wood. Every aspect of Rome's script and production are backed up by detailed research, historical consultant Johnathon Stamp is a key figure behind the scenes. As Jane Tranter, the BBC's controller of drama commissioning, puts it : " Gladiator was marvellous entertainment but we at the BBC are not going to give a huge amount of money to recreate a period of history and make something that is not based on any kind of truth. People want to discover and unravel things. And we want to be able to offer them that extra frisson of - You know what? It all happened."
The attention to detail on set is impressive. When the script called for thousands of gold coins stamped, with Caesar's head prop master Arther Wicks (with the help of a little man from the Vatican) made thousands of replica gold coins stamped with the head of Ciaran Hinds, the actor playing Caesar. The shows superb costumes made by April Ferry, are not the traditional HollyRome gauzy white or past style based on Alma- Tadema's paintings, but rougher, heavier, redder and made only from materials the Romans would have used - wool, silk and cotton.
The desire for authentic detail has yielded some startling insights. Unlike Hollywood's Roman Christian epics, Rome tries to bring alive the religion of Romans and their cultish obsessions. In episode one the main female character Atia visits a temple and, according to Heller's script, "showers in blood". Bennett considered the idea preposterous, but researched it and discovered it was indeed based on what we know of ritual. "They used to lead a bull into a special wooden frame, cut it and the animals blood would be used as a libation on the body. Your imagination could never come up with anything like that. The moralities were just so completely different."
Even Gladiator contests in the show wont look like what we are used to."Part of authenticity is what an audience expects, but one hopes to jolt or at least challenge preconceptions," says Bennett. In the period in which the show was set there was no Coliseum. Gladiator fights, staged in the forum, were more like a modern travelling circus, or a bull fight, or on occasion on which criminals were dispatched by professionals in front of small crowds with nowhere better to go on an afternoon. It was bloody enough to be sure. On one day of shooting, 11 gladiators got their heads, arms or other parts lopped of in front of a baying crowd of Italian extras. But "It was on a more human scale than we thought, and fights weren't always to the death. You end up with something you haven't seen before. We can't compete with the scale of Gladiator, but hopefully this is fresher, you make your own myth."
Sex And The City With Togas (by Baz Bamigboye, Daily Mail)
Rome wasn't built in a day,the one Joseph Bennett designed took a year, It'll stand for another five.
Behind sound stages at the famed Cinecitta Studios, (just outside the real Rome), A replica of the Arch of Janus and the two temples of Mars and Jupiter, along with the Basilica Giulia, have been erected for an epic television series-yip you guessed it Rome.
The American TV company has teamed up with the BBC to create a drama that really brings Ancient Rome to life. As Johnathon Stamp, the shows historical consultant noted; " This is the studio where the movies Cleopatra and Ben-Hur were shot, and the same kind of look pervades those movies.
"I call it the Holly - Rome look - starched white togas and everything sanitised. The whole ethos of our Rome is to do something entirely different."
Indeed, James Purefoy who portrays Marc Antony in the new production, has already boasted on these pages how the bonking scenes have left him exhausted.
Even a Lothario of his stature was initially unnerved when told his love scenes would be scrutinised by actors playing slaves." But this is what went on," explained Stamp.
"It meant nothing to Marc Antony to have his slave, or the slave of his mistress, in the room during sex. It was what they did then and was considered completely normal," Stamp told me as he gave me a guided tour through the incredible back streets and lavish temples created by Bennett and his team. Some of the buildings have been daubed with red paint, and straw and food (offerings to the Gods) left on the steps.
The idea was to give various buildings a lived-in and weathered look. In a sense, the same is true of the cast. Sure the man are handsome and the women beautiful ( costume designer April Ferry has created some opulent, decadent gowns) but they also look like real people, as opposed to that plastic, full white teeth look some of the U.S actors who get cast in TV Roles these days. Ciaran Hinds, as Julius Caesar leads the company.
Other British actors such as Kevin Mc Kidd and Ray Stevenson star as foot soldiers, whose lives we will follow in the drama which has twelve initial episodes to begin with.
Polly Walker Plays the manipulative and sexually eager Atia,who is the mother of Octavian(Played by Max Pirkis.) Lindsay Duncan is Servilia and Indira Varma plays Niobe, who is married to McKidd's character. They have three children, although the parentage of the third becomes a plot line in itself.
As I walk around the various stages and workshops, I am fascinated by the activity going on around me. I have the feeling that if they can get it right -and there have been some production problems - it could be a major hit.