- Brian Donaldson
- 15 May 2021
Unchallenging and uncomplicated telling of one woman's rise through the ranks of Ancient Rome
A powerful matriarch called Livia dominates all around her, thumbing a nose at the so-called men of influence in her orbit, and causing mischief and awkwardness wherever she goes. If this makes you think of Livia Soprano, the mother superior who consorted to have her son Tony killed, that's probably because David Chase chose Livia Drusilla as one of the major influences behind The Sopranos' grand matriarch. While the real Livia has played a back-seat role in previous historical TV dramas such as I, Claudius and Rome, she is afforded centre stage for Domina.
This eight-part series about Ancient Rome starts with a very modern theme tune, not long after we see a young woman stove a man's head in with a boulder. By the end of the episode we realise that this was Livia's savage act against a very bad man, immediately enlisting us to her cause. We see her rise from child bride to powerbroker to full-on leader, doing things both bad and good in order to avoid the accusation of being 'unRoman'.
Nadia Parkes and Kasia Smutniak play Livia as young and older (this casting means that her accent goes from polite middle Englander to a stronger European dialect) while the heavyweights come in the form of Isabella Rossellini as a brothel boss, and Liam Cunningham playing Livia's relatively forward-thinking father Livius who is accused of 'making the mistake of teaching his daughter how to think'. Against that progressive grain, Livius make a remark that can best be described as Ancient Rome's equivalent of a 1970s mother-in-law joke.
If you can get a handle on the flurry of Roman names being bandied about early on, you're unlikely to be too foxed by a narrative that has either been concisely crafted to a fine point or drastically dumbed-down. The various sides (essentially Republic v Empire) seem almost too well mapped out for a drama on a channel that usually provides its audience with a more rigorous struggle in keeping up with a plot. It may be the latest series to be 'the next Game Of Thrones', but this gore-light blockbuster is a little too easy on the eye and unchallenging for the brain to earn that title.