Your weekly streaming pick is here! Roman Empire is an incredible hybrid of a documentary and historical drama. A Netflix original and narrated by Sean Bean (a role he may survive) Roman Empire is a quality series.
In the second century AD the Roman Empire was comfortable with the thought of an Emperor. Yes, Rome started as a Republic and Julius Caesar wasn’t the only dictator. He was never even actually Emperor. Emperor Marcus Aurelius is dying. Well loved and well regarded as an incredible leader Aurelius makes a huge mistake as his last move. Aurelius names his son Commodus, as successor to his reign. Up until this point Rome’s Emperors were agreed on by the Senate. This was often a corrupt process or little more than a formality, but I digress. Commodus is not fit to rule. He’s narcissistic, immature, and seemingly uninterested. Many historians see Commodus as the beginning of the end of the Empire. Though Rome continued on for another ~1200 years or so. Depending on what you consider the official fall.
Do the names Marcus Aurelius and Commodus sound familiar? They are the Emperor and son from the movie Gladiator. Sadly, Maximus Decimus Meridius was not a historical figure and didn’t put this guy in his place. Commodus rules the Empire through title, schemes, fear, and knowing who to promote. Commodus loved performers, namely gladiators. Performers were adored while entertaining people but in society were seen as trash. He also had a habit of trusting freed slaves with responsibilities. Responsibilities generally reserved for noble birth Romans. He bucked the system and made enemies doing so.
It’s easy to go off and write a full essay on Commodus, his reign, and Rome as a whole. That’s not really what the streaming pick is all about.
Roman Empire is currently streaming on Netflix
The hybrid form of documentary and drama works surprisingly well. Sean Bean is a great narrator and delivers the information with a calming cadence that is easy to listen to for binge speed watching. Breaking up the narration with dramatic performances makes me think back to cable TV days watching horrid recreations on history channel where you want the information but cringe at the production quality. Luckily Roman Empire put some money and effort into the dramatics. The set pieces, costuming, and performances are all well done. Some of the acting is a bit wooden but nothing really jumps out to ruin the flow of the information.
The drama is cut away from for the floating head/camera confessionals of historians and scholars to deliver more real information. Far from an expert myself I have yet to hear/see something in this series that rings untrue or I know to be false.
The second season of this show just came out recently. The seasons are anthologies of a sort. Season 2 jumps into the story of Julius Caesar. Caesar’s reign is incredibly famous, but the amount of misinformation going around makes internet news look credible. It also happened a few hundred years prior to Commodus. Regrettably I have not been able to dive deep into this season to see if the structure and quality holds.
If you have any interest in history Roman Empire is a great resource and entertaining series. If you can’t get enough history check out the History of Rome podcast. It’s fantastic.