Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Ancient Rome was a model for civilization that cultures have followed ever since. It was also entirely brutal and pagan, but when the Roman Empire took over much of the world, it allowed Christianity to spread through a common speech. Seventy years before a significant baby was born in a manger, Julius Caesar became one of Rome's most influential figures and fought his way into the history books.
The law of Rome states that an army cannot march into the confines of the city. But the law means nothing to those with power. Lucius Sulla (Richard Harris) has just taken over the empire, marching his men into the senate and black listing all those who have opposed him in the past. Thousands are fleeing his heavy-handed regime, among them the father in law of Julius Caesar (Jeremy Sisto). In an attempt to save the man's life, Caesar is captured by Sulla's armies and imprisoned. Having heard of his legacy, Sulla has him brought in for trial. Liking the young man's impertinence, Sulla offers him the opportunity to live, if he will but divorce his "tainted" wife. Too passionately in love with his beloved to consider such a thing, Caesar adamantly refuses. Impressed by his frank adoration, Sulla allows him to go free, but then tells his general Pompey (Christopher North) to have Caesar assassinated in the morning.
Instead of carrying through his command, Pompey gives his signet ring to the young man and tells him to flee the province. Caesar does as he is told, and returns several years after Sulla's sudden death. Pompey is now the voice of reason and force in Rome, much to the disappointment of the senators, among them Marcus Cato (Christopher Walken) and other "men of the common wealth." Rome's empire is threatened from all sides and Pompey, now Consul, takes an army to victory on the battlefield. Returning bathed in glory, his romantic eye falls on Julia (Nicole Grimaudo), Caesar's beloved and beautiful daughter. Their friendship has grown strong in the passing years, and he is not opposed to the marriage, but desires to accumulate something from it. Wanting to prove himself in battle and earn honor through victory, Caesar allows Julia to be married to Pompey in exchange for the use of his armies in Gaul, where a revolution has been sparked.
While Caesar's name flows from every mouth in the empire, the senators are growing uneasy, knowing that he could easily overtake Rome and become the next dictator. Ultimately through loss, love, and triumph, Caesar will be turned against his dearest friend, betray his wife with a beautiful Egyptian temptress, and have his blood shed on the pages of history. This miniseries does an ample job of covering numerous years in the general's life but sometimes it can be confusing, since there's no direct implication of time passing, only mention of it in dialogue. One minute, Caesar is a bright-eyed youth, the next his hair is gray. It could have used a little polishing, but overall it's very worthwhile, particularly if you want a crash course in Ancient History.
It revolves around Caesar, which means that time spent with significant other individuals in the time period, such as Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, is limited, and leaves the audience hungering for something more. I found it highly entertaining, very informative about the era, and generally acceptable, if sometimes very rushed. I would have liked more character development in his relationship with Cleopatra and the social implications that followed. But it's an interesting glimpse into a bygone society.
After Caesar's wife's death, he shares the bed of a beautiful young woman. His bare back is seen as they kiss, talk about making an heir, and agree to marry. Cleopatra is very frank about her intentions to seduce him. She removes her cloak to reveal a very immodest garment (most of her bare chest is briefly shown) before they kiss. A bawdy play is put on in the street that jokes about Caesar's relationship with her.
There is one use of a**.
There is a great deal of battle violence, with hand to hand combat, men being trampled by horses, shot with arrows, and stabbed. Several men are assassinated with swords. There are glimpses of bloody operations. A man's severed head is seen briefly in a basket. Others are poisoned. Caesar's betrayal and end is difficult to watch and bloody. There are also intense thematic elements, including the implication that women and children are allowed to starve by two separate armies because there is only food enough for the soldiers, and a woman dying in childbirth.