A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Britannia is a drama set in a semi-fantastical past and focusing on the relationships between warring factions in a semi-fantastical world (think Game of Thrones). Most of this show's allure is in the characters and the setting: communities of druids and warriors living in and around the forest and sea. Though sex and violence (in the form of both swordplay and coming-of-age rituals) are often present, they're also only part of the conflicts that drive the show. There are distinctions drawn between characters who try to resolve differences using violence, and those who search for nonviolent resolution.
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What's the story?
In 43 A.D., a Roman battalion led by Aulus Plautius (David Morrissey) invades BRITANNIA, a mysterious wooded land populated by communities of druids and warriors. Aulus' first act is to violently invade one tribe's coming-of-age ritual, where Cait (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) gets separated from her family and rescued by exiled druid Divis (Nikolaj Lie Kaas). The other druids, led by Veran (Mackenzie Cook), use magic to prepare for the Romans. Elsewhere, two tribes -- led by Antedia (Zoe Wanamaker) and Pellenor (Ian McDiarmid) -- fight among themselves, as Pellenor's children, Kerra (Kelly Reilly) and Sawyer (Barry Ward), attempt to find a resolution that doesn't involve war.
Is it any good?
This series' strength lies in its ability to immediately transport the viewer to an exotic world. Gorgeously shot in the forests and hillsides of Wales and the Czech Republic, Britannia draws upon ancient Celtic and druid history for its costumes and other design elements. This attention to detail pays off in the way the show is able to draw acute distinctions between the various woodland tribes that populate Britannia, and creates an enormous visual contrast between those tribes and the Romans who have come to usurp them. There's a lot of rich imagery to take in, deployed with plenty of detail and imagination.
Unfortunately, that meticulousness doesn't carry over to the story itself. Characters are often drawn in broad strokes, such as the Roman war-monger, Aulus; the helpless preteen, Cait; and Pellenor's rebel-warrior daughter, Kerra. In fact, Britannia displays a surprising disinterest in characters that do show the capacity to grow or change. For example, one Roman soldier begins to have remorse for the murders he's committed, but then he's quickly dispatched -- turned into a kind of zombie messenger by the druids, ridding him of any hint of the emotional depth he'd previously shown.
With its warring factions in an unfamiliar (and British-accented) land, the obvious touchstone for Britannia is Game of Thrones. But at the heart of Thrones' conflicts are complex characters making choices that have real consequences for the world around them. Without that foundation, there's just not enough investment in Britannia's characters to care about their wars. The spectacle itself is impressive, but the lack of substance underneath keeps Britannia from really landing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the differences between each of the woodland communities in Britannia -- their worldviews and how they get what they want. How do conflicts between them, and the violent invasions of the Romans, affect each member of the community on a personal level? What does it feel like when your country is at war, even if you're not totally involved?
What do you know about ancient Rome? What do you think about the way this show blends history and fantasy?
Families can talk about why the Romans invade Britannia. Are they right or wrong to do so? What does the violence cost them? What does it cost the communities they attack?
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