Empire (2005)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop 
  
So much of it reads like a novel that it's hard to believe people like Marc Anthony and Julius Caesar truly existed. That Cleopatra seduced her way into power, that so many cousins and brothers and senators were assassinated. The years prior to the coming of Christ were fraught with so much scandal and turmoil that it would be foolish to ignore as one of the greatest potential epics of our time.
 
Empire was a six-installment miniseries that premiered on ABC midsummer of 2005, and is one of their most ambitious projects, filming on location in Rome. Newly returned from the battlefield, Julius Caesar (Colm Feore) is not pleased to find that so little has been accomplished in his absence. The senate continues to quarrel like petulant children, and his nephew Octavius (Santiago Cabrera) is known more for his love of beautiful women than his influence and wit. When the success of a mighty gladiator known as Tyrannus (Jonathan Cake) strikes his interest, Caesar approaches the slave with a proposition: if he will swear loyalty to the House of Caesar, and work as a protector of Octavius, he will be given his freedom. Tyrannus accepts, but on the day he is to escort Caesar to the senate, his child is kidnapped.
 
Tracking down and recovering his son means that he is not present when Caesar is betrayed by the senators, who kill him in cold blood. His vicious murder enrages the citizens of Rome and the fury of Caesar's loyal second-in-command, Marc Anthony (Vincent Regan). Senator Cassius (Michael Maloney) knows the public will tear them apart if the truth is known, and seeks to use Caesar's sister to calm the mob. Tyrannus was present to hear the dying words of Caesar, that he passed his legacy and armies on to Octavius. Certain that the young man's life now lies in peril, Tyrannus pleads with him to flee from Rome. In the meanwhile, Caesar's will has been given into the keeping of Camane (Emily Blunt), one of the Vestal Virgins in the Temple. Her loyalty is to the goddess she serves, but her patriotism stands for the good of Rome.
 
One of the most brilliantly-written epics I have seen in a long time, Empire is full of rich characters and dramatic situations, from the return of Caesar to the joy of a screaming crowd to the blood on the final battlefield. The first disk in the series (which contains the first three episodes) is fantastic, and manages to keep semi-accurate to history, but the second disk was much more of a disappointment. Strong acting carries through, but most of its incidents are impractical fables that don't present historical characters in a very true or good light. I have never been a fan of Marc Anthony, but this series makes him out to be a diabolical, self-serving villain. That may very well be true, but has historians screaming in outrage. I also found it difficult to believe that a series could involve him so much and yet never make any mention of his pursuit of Cleopatra.
 
The sets, costumes, and cinematography for this film is amazing. It is the most realistic depiction of life in Ancient Rome that I have ever seen, from the gritty underground tunnels to the magnificence of the senatorial room where Caesar was betrayed and murdered by the men he trusted. Names like Brutus, Agrippa, and even Cicero are present, accompanied by a beautiful musical score and surprisingly emotional performances. Maloney is despicable, and Regan is a surprisingly dark and multi-layered Marc, but the entire miniseries belongs to Jonathan Cake. He has the most expressive eyes I have ever seen and some of his scenes will have you shed more than a few tears on his behalf. I loved Blunt's presence as a priestess who thinks more of the empire than she does her celestial duties.
 
Unfortunate, the extreme sexual content forbids me from recommending it.

   

 

 

Sexual Content:

An orgy; all of the participants are clothed, but are shown gyrating against one another, sliding their hands beneath one another's tunics, passionately kissing, and climbing all over one another. Octavius takes to bed not one, but two women. Marc Anthony later shows an interest in a man's wife and is shown fondling her in a pool. The woman's clothes are so sheer that you can see her naked breasts through them.

  

Language:

B*stard is used in context, and "by the gods!" is used as an oath.

  

Violence:

Several stabbing scenes; we see a room full of bloodied bodies (the result of vipers being let loose among drunken guests). Soldiers are mowed down in battle with the use of swords; gladiator games end in death. Tyrannus takes a beating meant for Octavius, the spines of a malicious whip biting into his side. Severed heads atop pikes mark the entrance to the school of gladiators. Physical violence is threatened toward Camane.

 

Other:

None.


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