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You Should Be Watching: 'Britannia'

If you seek action-packed drama about ancient conquest and colonization, then travel back in time and space to “Britannia.” Imagining the Roman conquest of Britain, “Britannia” vividly portrays a Roman invading army and the bitterly divided Celts whom they overran.

Title: "Britannia"

Year it began: 2018

Where it can be seen: Amazon Prime

Who’s in it: David Morrissey, Kelly Reilly, Mackenzie Crook, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Eleanor Worthington Cox, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Ian McDiarmid, Zoë Wanamaker, Annabel Scholey and Fortunato Cerlino.

Typical episode length: 43 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 9

Brief plot description: In 43 AD, the Roman General Aulus Plautius invades Britain, landing in a zone where the Cantii, led by King Pellinor and his fierce daughter Kerra, fight the Regensi, led by Queen Antedia. The mysterious priests called the Druids control the Britons’ spiritual affairs—and an outcast Druid, Divis, hopes to save the Britons from ruin.

Why it’s worth watching: “Britannia” offers an intensely dramatic portrait of Roman conquest and Celtic resistance. With a big budget that enabled gorgeous outdoor sets and sumptuous period costumes, “Britannia” depicts wildly beautiful landscapes in which tattooed Celts try to negotiate a large-scale invading army. “Britannia” is successful in using the basic ingredients of history—a Roman invasion led by Aulus Plautius, who used alliances with some tribes to help crush any who resisted—to create its own dramatic world. The directors powerfully portray the grotesque and otherworldly Druids, whose drugged-out stares and gruesome rituals explain the Roman soldiers’ anxieties about occupying such truly alien territory.

The strong cast features many fine performances. Morrissey plays a compelling Aulus Plautius. Brash and cheerfully confident, the Roman general boldly plans to attack the Britons’ very gods themselves, to do what Julius Caesar could not—conquer Britain. Reilly is riveting as the cautious and intensely independent Kerra. Rhind-Tutt is excellent as the charmingly clever, but beleaguered Phelan. Kaas is fascinating as the unhinged outcast Divis, whose spiritual ramblings and Druidic skills reveal a threatened culture’s desperate attempts to preserve itself, while McDiarmid presents his doomed King Pellinore as a figure of both ferocity and dignity. Crook offers the show’s most absorbing and unsettling performance as Verran, a Druid priest whose eerie gestures, jagged teeth, and dilated eyes project an uncanny certainty that gives us a wondrous glimpse of a lost culture’s spiritual authority.

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