BIG-ACTION, swords and sorcery — it’s little wonder there are whispers Britannia could fill the gaping hole left by Game of Thrones, writes Gemma Dunne.
But according to its cast, fans will soon realise Jez Butterworth’s nine-part series has its “own thing” going on. “I’m sure it will appeal to a lot of people who enjoy Game of Thrones,” actress Mackenzie Crook says of the Sky Atlantic drama, which is set in 43AD and follows the Roman army as they strive to crush the Celtic heart of Britannia.
But while there’s going to be the “inevitable comparisons, it pulls no punches”, he says: “It shows how brutal and violent life was in those times.”
Viewers will be taken to Britannia, a mysterious land led by warrior women and powerful Druids.
Butterworth (the writer behind Spectre and award-winning plays Jerusalem and The Ferryman) tells the story of the power struggle between the Druids, Celts and Romans.
“It’s very true to its period,” reasons co-star David Morrissey. “People might come to the show thinking it’s something else, like ‘Will it be like another show - Game of Thrones - or whatever?’ But once you’re in there, it’s a world on its own and that will take it through.”
A tale of epic proportions requires epic characters - and Britannia certainly doesn’t disappoint.
There’s the fearless Aulus Plautius, as portrayed by The Walking Dead’s David Morrissey. One of the greatest Roman generals, Aulus has been charged by Emperor Claudius with conquering Britannia. But he also has his own agenda.
Then there’s Kerra, the headstrong daughter of King Pellenor (Ian McDiarmid) and as skilled a warrior as any other member of the Cantii tribe. Played by True Detective actress Kelly Reilly, Kerra has hated the Druids ever since they cast judgement upon her mother, sentencing her to be flayed alive.
Next, Mackenzie Crook helms the part of Veran, a 10,000-year-old enigma who knows the secrets of both this world and the next. The tribes believe that gives him immense power: he speaks for the gods.
Finally, take note of Zoe Wanamaker’s brilliant portrayal of Antedia, the “angry” queen of the Regni tribe. Fierce and unforgiving, she has a score to settle after being betrayed in the past.
The show doesn’t shy away from lavish costumes either, with Morrisseydonning armour and a made-up Wanamaker, whose outfits took inspiration from the British Museum.
“It’s a flight of imagination based on reality,” Wanamaker, 68, says, admitting the most stressful part of the day was being helped out of the costume ‘to pee’.
“I was originally from America, and when we first came to this country my mother would tell me, ‘ The British are barbarians, they painted themselves blue’. So I ended up proving her right.”
For Reilly and Crook, it was shooting at the especially-built ritual site ‘Amber Palace’ that took some beating. “It looks like Stonehenge, and we had 300 extras dancing and playing drums and a smoke machine going under a full moon!” says Reilly, 40. “I was just thinking, ‘This thing is touched with some magic’.”
Another highlight for her was working with Crook. “He was channelling something playing Veran,” she says. “He’s extremely powerful for such a slim guy, and he inhabits Veran with this madness and brilliance. He’s so inventive.”
Of the Amber Palace, Crook remembers finding himself on top of it “with my fear of heights to perform this massive ritual”.
“I just stepped away from myself and said, ‘This is quite possibly how it actually was back then’.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved