Celts, Druids, and Romans. Oh my!
If you’re in the market for a new sword and shield epic to hold you over until the final season of Game of Thrones — Amazon’s Britannia is worth checking out. Britannia tells a fictionalized story of the Roman Empire’s invasion of the Celtic and Druid societies. There’s enough blood, sex, and magical craziness in the nine-episode Season 1 to keep any GoT fan happy.
Britannia complements Game of Thrones in more ways than one. Imagine the island of England as Westeros, with the Romans as the White Walkers — the ultimate destructive force that wants to conquer the world. In Britannia, the local Celtic tribes are at war with each other, much like the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a similar scenario where the tribes would be better equipped to deal with the Roman threat if they worked together.
Of the three groups that play an important role in the story, the Druids are the most fascinating, mostly due to the fact that they can communicate with the dead. They’re a lot like the Red Priests from GoT, but not nearly as good looking as Melisandre. Britannia’s approach to tackling these historical figures falls in line with other period dramas, like Vikings and Knightfall. The writers appear to be leaving the door open for viewers to make their own conclusions on whether or not the Druids actually had these kinds of powers. Like many miraculous events throughout history, how an individual perceives these stories depends on their beliefs.
In Britannia, the Romans are seen as one-dimensional villains, whereas the Druids and Celts are people worth rooting for. However, a young Roman named Antonious (Aaron Pierre) is the one soldier who isn’t all gung-ho about killing peaceful Celts. Antonious is the closest thing to a Jon Snow that Britannia has. If there’s going to be a heroic figure that can rise above the tyranny of Rome — it’s Tony, a sensitive lad who is wrestling with his loyalty to the empire, even going as far as to doubt which gods he should worship. It was a pleasant surprise to see Britannia delve into the theological beliefs of the various cultures. Game of Thrones explores these same dynamics with the Lord of Light and the Westerosi Faith of the Seven.
Period dramas can get bogged down in politics, with the men shouting at each other about the right courses of action on any given issue. These proceedings can become tedious, but like Game of Thrones, Britannia fills its political squabbles with engaging characters, equivalent to Littlefinger and Lord Varys. Political intrigue can work if you have the right orators. In Britannia, it’s King Pellenor (Ian McDiarmid) who chews through the most scenes. Who better than Emperor Palpatine to lead the political discourse?
A standout in Season 1 is the gorgeous Celtic warrior princess Kerra (Kelly Reilly). Kerra’s story is a familiar one that we’ve seen played out in countless movies about a young woman wanting to escape the confines of her overprotective father, but it’s Reilly’s performance that helps her character stand out. She’s a fierce fighter on the battlefield and an intelligent strategist in the political sphere. Kerra is much older than Arya or Sansa in Game of Thrones, which is a nice change of pace to see a fully grown woman still trying to discover her independence.
While it’s too early to tell if Britannia will be as groundbreaking as Game of Thrones, it does tell an entertaining story, filled with lush scenery and strong performances from its leading cast that will keep you engaged as you eagerly await 2019. All nine-episodes of Britannia are currently available on Amazon Prime Video.
David Griffin still watches DuckTales in his pajamas with a cereal bowl in hand. He’s also the TV Editor for IGN. Say hi on Twitter.