Is Britannia the new Game of Thrones?


Season eight of Game of Thrones may feel like a lifetime away, so it’s only natural for fans to want something to temporarily replace it – even if that’s a mere short respite until the as yet unannounced date of its final season hits our screens.

If you’re thinking of giving HBO’s latest series Britannia a whirl, you’re in luck because here’s a spoiler-free review of the first episode.

(Credit: Sky Atlantic)
(Credit: Sky Atlantic)

We begin with a brief prologue, telling us how the Romans, under Julius Caesar, tried invading Britannia. But that plan was abandoned after they were scared off by the druids and 90 years later they’re back, which is where our story begins…

It’s an intriguing premise and one that, on the face of the current calibre of TV dramas and fantasy shows, has a lot to live up to.

So, it’s worth getting this out the way now: this is clearly not on par with Game of Thrones. Let’s face it, what is?

No, this is something that is a watered down version of the adapted content of George RR Martin’s epic writings, as it more so echoes HBO and BBC’s 2001 offering, Rome (which is excellent, by the way).

(Credit: Sky Atlantic)
(Credit: Sky Atlantic)

If first impressions are anything to go by then it;s not good news. Sadly, the opening score doesn’t quite fit the show. Guitar riffs in its intro credits feel terribly out of place, with a dull score playing during the entirety of an episode that fails to stand out or offer much tension to the drama or action that unfolds.

Episode one also bears a strikingly familiar narrative set-up to that of Thrones’ The Hound and Arya Stark’s cross-country journey. As with the generally high quality of story, dialogue, acting, and tension Thrones gives us, Britannia can only dream of matching such levels – but that’s not to say it doesn’t try.

Battles scenes are violent, intense and action-packed. Gratuity is the preferred option here, as we see plenty of blood and bodily stabbings that aren’t necessary for impact or to convey what’s happening, but it uses visuals in an attempt to evoke. Similarly, it attempts to appease its audience’s sexual appetite with a brief sex scene in order to detail the ritualistic livings of the people of Britannia.

What really hinders its opening hour is the sluggish and jam-packed exposition. There’s a lot of characters to establish, with several groups of peoples (tribes, druids, Romans) that don’t sink in straight away. Then again, we can all think back to our first ever Thrones experience and recall how difficult it was to follow and familiarise oneself with the now familiar faces.

(Credit: Sky Atlantic)
(Credit: Sky Atlantic)

That said, Kelly Reilly’s Kerra is a notable standout (not just because she looks like a human version of Brave’s Merida; thanks to her flowing red locks and bow and arrow). Her character as King Pellenor’s (Ian McDiarmid) daughter is something of an outcast, implying the thorny dynamics will have some major impact further down the line. Mackenzie Crook is just about recognisible in creepily effective prosthetics as Veran, a powerful spellbinder in the druid faction, who plays his role to convincing levels.

The biggest downer on what is a slow-paced yet intriguing opening is its clunky dialogue. Compare it to any other modern show that has slick, intelligent, and even witty one liners or interactions and it lags significantly. Indeed, poor dialogue can have detrimental effect on an entire scene or show; here, it sometimes sucks the life out of what would otherwise be a significant or powerful moment as it stifles the potential for an engaging conversation.

Admittedly, it’s far too early to judge an entire series (nine episodes in total) on its starting point. Britannia does at least gives us some potentially explosive scenarios to come. The infighting and apparent showdown between the witch-crafting druids and brute force of the Roman army could serve up something spectacular – especially after some gorgeous-looking locales and competent action sequences dotted about its debut.

(Credit: Sky Atlantic)
(Credit: Sky Atlantic)

Britannia won’t blow you away within its first hour. In truth, it might not even urge you to watch the next episode in any hurry. However, in all the heavy exposition lies a promise: a premise that teases to lea us down a dark, chilling path of spells and curses and possession (perhaps not too dissimilar from BBC’s Taboo starring Tom Hardy).

The big question is whether it can even fill a tiny gap of anticipation between now and the final season of Game of Thrones. And the answer, after one episode, is potentially.

Season 1 one of Britannia is available on Sky Box Sets now.

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