Sex & the City

HBO's ‘Rome'

They came; they saw; they conquered. They ordered 250 chain-mail tunics from India, and they sent Hollywood actors to boot camp. Yes, I’m talking about those canny strategists at HBO, the cable channel that—to steal a phrase from Julius Caesar—bestrides the narrow TV spectrum like a colossus. Having in the past captured a range of milieus with such blockbuster series as Six Feet Under (the world of undertakers), The Sopranos (the Mafia), and Sex and the City (New York sex-obsessed shopaholics), HBO is now tackling ancient history. A coproduction with the BBC, Rome recently kicked off its twelve-episode first season, a seductively lurid mix of real history—Caesar’s victorious return to Rome after subduing Gaul—and racy potboiler, with enough scenes of sex, conspiracy, and mayhem to entertain an army of off-duty legionnaires.

HBO is preening about the labor, erudition, and cash it funneled into this project: publicity materials trumpet the fact that Rome was filmed, well, in Rome, on the world’s largest standing set, with the hundreds of actors and extras wearing four thousand costume pieces, presumably including the hand-made armor.

The press releases particularly gloat about the historical verisimilitude of everything, right down to the graffiti in the streetscapes. I’m not saying the producers sought expert opinion for the myriad sex scenes (...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.