‘Britannia’ – Sky Atlantic

Britannia is the much discussed and much trumpeted new Sky Atlantic drama. It’s also the first co-production between Sky and Amazon. It’s written by Jez Butterworth, who seems to have theater and screenwriting experience in spades, but not much on the CV for telly. Not like our collective expectations are set too high, but it’s been bandied about that Sky are in desperate need of something substantial in the swords and bloodlust category as the wait for Game of Thrones will be glacial. But the people who have seen it already are split into two camps – either it’s brilliantly bat-shit or terribly confusing. Well, which is it then?

Set in 43 AD this is about the Roman conquest of Britain. This is the second time around, as Julius Cesar went home with his tail between his legs in 54 BC, and boy, despite the man being long dead, do we hear a lot about that. We meet General Aulus Plautius, played by David Morrissey, not worrying in the slightest about his accent or where in the Roman Empire he hails from. To misquote Doctor Who, a lot of countries have a north. Aye up legionnaires!

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‘The Last Dragonslayer’

The Last Dragonslayer on Sky 1 was a proper Christmas treat and should have been on everyone’s list to watch instead of the Doctor Who christmas episode, shown at the same time. In this reviewer’s opinion Doctor Who has been limping along since the unfortunate Peter Capaldi took over. The sooner we see new showrunner Chris Chibnall’s work in 2017 the better, although it’d take a miracle to lure me back. Anyway I digress…

This much more satisfying slice of fantasy was served up by novelist Jasper Fforde. I’ve read quite a few of Fforde’s weird postmodern literary stories but never realised he’d branched out into young adult fiction. Happy to report that while retaining his own odd identity (more on that later) this shared elements with classic YA stuff like the Harry Potter series, Rincewind’s adventures in the Discworld and the magnificent His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.

This is a full review, so if you want to avoid spoilers go watch it now and come back later.

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‘Houdini & Doyle’ – On the Box

Well this looks daft. I rolled my eyes at the advert, but then I wondered, is it too silly, or just silly enough?

As long as a show is well-written, the acting isn’t too hammy and there’s some spectacular effects we’ll sit through a lot of stuff that sounds like absolute guff written down. For examples please see fantasy/ fairy tale horror Grimm (now inexplicably in its fifth season), fantasy/ fairy tale mash-up Once Upon a Time (totally ridiculous premise, carried off with some significant flair), ’90s cultural touchstone Buffy (Teenage Mutant Vampire Hunter) etc etc.

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‘The Last Kingdom’ – Seeing the Future

Exciting times for history fans! The Last Kingdom (BBC2)  starts this week (22 october at 9pm). Expect fighting frightening Vikings, blood and gore, and defending the shores of the British Isles. Expect important and resonant themes of immigration and colonisation. Expect rugged men looking rugged astride horses against rugged landscapes. And expect Bernard Cornwell’s books (this show is based on his series The Saxon Story) to be stacked sky-high in Waterstones.

But don’t expect dragons. Or magic. And it seems there’s slim chance of sex or nudity. If we’ve learned anything this week it’s been that writer Bernard Cornwell is not a fan of Game of Thrones. His work in based in history, so while the costumes, weapons and landscape look epic and lavish, there’s zero fantasy elements.

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