Britannia Season 1 Blu-ray Review
"The Age of Wonder is at an end."
Britannia is a far cry from the glory days of Rome, playing fast and loose with history and attempting to cash in on the sex-and-violence fantasy cash cow that is Game of Thrones, but coming up short.It's surprising to see a Roman invasion and war against ancient British tribes delivered in such an inert fashion. Ostensibly set in AD43, as the Romans, having previously failed, try once again to take Britannia from the Celtic tribes, the story follows several disparate individuals - David Morrissey's determined General Plautius, who wants to get the tribes to turn on one another in an attempt to whittle down his enemies, but struggles to keep order in his own ranks; Kelly Reilly's fierce Kerra, the warrior daughter of the king of one tribe, who looks set to take her father, Ian McDiarmid's, place; and Nikolaj Lie Kaas' Divis, a failed Druid who comes across like a madman but is actually instilled with a special power which may help in the wars to come, and who finds an unlikely companion in Eleanor Worthington-Cox's Cait, a young tribal girl separated from her parents.With support from a heavily makeup-laden McKenzie Crook, as creepy head Druid Veran, and Zoe Wanamaker as the Queen of another tribe, the 9-episode season sees the warring tribes and invading forces scheme together and battle one another, whilst almost supernatural forces appear to be in play. Britannia wants to skip to the meat of Game of Thrones' success, forgetting the strong formula of not only that show, but shows like Rome, which starts on a small scale and builds up slowly to more deserved epic heights. Instead this scattershot approach to myriad characters and murky conflict is messy and underdeveloped, often quite stylish (at least in its hallucinations), but ultimately failing to give us anything or anyone to root for or invest in. A slow, plodding start does get better a few episodes in, but even the eventful climax cannot save this show.
Picture QualityBritannia comes to UK Region Free Blu-ray courtesy of Sony, complete with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation in the show's original broadcast ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen. Whilst far from low in budget, and not without a few stylish flourishes, there's something decidedly more modest in terms of scale and stylisation than the richly textured Game of Thrones, for example, which has a much more filmic look it.
A strong video presentation
Detail is strong enough, bringing life to the skin textures and backgrounds, and exploring the intricacies of the sets and camps, as well as the diverse tribal attire. There's little softness, and the digitally shot production has an almost au naturel look to it, which is not atypical to UK-set productions, but doesn't help with the aforementioned lack of more cinematic texture. The colour scheme has some nice vibrant primaries on offer, not least the royal blues of one of the tribes, as well as the rich, deep crimsons of the Roman soldiers, with a vibrant green backdrop and sporadically blue sky. Black levels are strong, wavering around the edges with a little crush, particularly in a couple of poorly conceived night shots that have limited lighting, marking perhaps the only slight against an otherwise pretty impressive video presentation.
Sound QualityA decent 5.1 soundtrack
The shot's accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also a strong accompaniment, albeit similarly falling short of reference quality, but doing a decent enough job with the material. Depending on taste the title's opening track can be a little disorientating given the period of the show, attempting to clearly imbue it with a 60s hippie vibe commensurate with all the hallucinogenics on offer, but often just jarring where perhaps a more sombre, resonant piece would have worked better. Nevertheless, it gets good prioritisation across the frontal array, with dialogue delivered with similar clarity and coherence throughout; disseminated from the front channels. Effects rise to the minor skirmishes and general bustle of the camps, with burning torches and neighing horses, but there are only a few even vaguely bigger scale setpieces. Nonetheless, flayed skin, scorched eyeballs, and all manner of other bodily harm comes across with suitably bloody noises. It's a decent track, but certainly nothing exceptional.
ExtrasNothing but a couple of Featurettes - Rome's Pagan Nightmare and Bloody Birth of Britain.
Blu-ray VerdictThose expecting another Rome or Game of Thrones will be disappointed
Britannia has been almost universally derided for its historical inaccuracies, and also heavily criticised for its modern retro-fitting of political correctness (affording racial diversity and female equality where some would argue there was none) but those are not fatal flaws. Instead what undoes this series is the almost complete lack of compelling central characters which ultimately leaves it of fairly limited appeal. Whilst this kind of approach worked with Game of Thrones, that benchmark of a series didn't start that way, and indeed started by introducing us to characters like the one played by Sean Bean, who, at least initially, would be strong enough to make you feel invested in their fate. Try as they might, neither Reilly's warrior princess nor Morrissey's Roman general make for compelling characters and, without them, the rest fall by the wayside. With some promising ideas and an unusual setting it's a shame that Britannia doesn't really live up to expectations, particularly as the first Amazon Video/Sky Atlantic joint production.
Sony's UK Blu-ray release affords the series strong video and audio as well as a couple of extras to keep it from being bare bones. Those who didn't catch it on Now TV and don't want to wait for it to inevitably pop up on Amazon Video given it's one of their productions (almost certainly when the rights end in April on Now TV), will find this a good way to check out the show, but those expecting another Rome or Game of Thrones will be disappointed, so set your expectations accordingly.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.99
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