Caesar's salad days
WHAT a dreadful noise the plebs make when they're happy." And even more when they're outraged, it seems.
At 58 million, Rome - a collaboration with HBO, the company that brought us Sex and the City and Six Feet Under - is the most expensive BBC drama ever made, taking 14 months of filming in Rome's Cinecitt studios. Already running in the United States, it is being compared, not always favourably, with HBO's other violent Italian drama, The Sopranos.
The epic tale begins in 52BC, a pivotal period that saw the rise of Julius Caesar and the birth of the Roman empire. It is told through the eyes of two foot soldiers in Caesar's 13th legion, centurion Lucius Vorenus (played by our very own Elgin marvel Kevin McKidd), a brave and honourable man with high moral standards, and legionary Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson), a hedonistic tough guy with little respect for authority.
The opening scenes set the tone, with a final bloody battle against the Gauls offering gore aplenty as the enemy are stabbed, flayed and cleaved. With their enemy defeated, the soldiers are glad to be heading home - "Here I come, drinking all the wine, smoking every smoke and f**king every whore in the city," promises Titus, and he means it - but they are returning to families who have become strangers and a Rome they barely recognise, where Caesar's popularity with the masses is about to unleash a deadly struggle for power.
Wanton rutting commences as the soldiers approach Rome. Faced with being reacquainted with his wife after nearly a decade, Mark Antony (James Purefoy) has his way with a passing shepherdess. She doesn't seem to mind - though the sheep look a little nervous. More thrusting and moaning follows, as we meet Caesar's scheming niece Atia, a woman who drops her toga to get her own way. And there's a bit of nasty-looking crucifixion - all in a day's work for the Roman soldier.
You might think Antony's greeting to Atia, "God, your beauty is painful", is the best chat-up line you've never heard, but he could equally have been referring to the fact that the Brazilian wax apparently originated in Rome.
McKidd is excellent in this role, bringing a complexity and depth to his character. He even spent a couple of weeks at a military boot camp to prepare, braving extremes of weather from blistering heat to thunderstorms and a tornado. "We wore open-toed sandals and skirts. We were blue and freezing and didn't feel as if we could carry on." Sounds like a Highlander's average night out.
"It's all schoolboy fantasy stuff," according to McKidd. "Being soldiers, getting to gallop horses into battle." But I doubt very many schoolboys will be allowed to watch it.
MORE schoolboy fantasies are being re-enacted this week, as Richard Hammond leaves fast cars and Top Gear behind to concentrate on blowing stuff up. In one of the biggest scientific experiments ever made for TV, a new five-part series examines Guy Fawkes's 1605 Gunpowder Plot to destroy the Houses of Parliament. The finale comes when Hammond and his team put Fawkes's unrealised plan to the test. All he needs is a full-size replica of the House of Lords and 36 barrels of 17th-century explosives - oh, and some matches. Don't try this at home.
• Rome, Wednesday, BBC2, 9pm; The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding the Legend, Tuesday, ITV, 9.45pm
Today, Channel 4, 12.05am.
THIS week's schedules are packed with horror flicks to get us into the spirit of Halloween - The Shining, Rosemary's Baby, The Hitcher, and so on. Tonight's twisted psycho-chiller from Takashi Miike, Japan's answer to David Cronenberg, sets the pace with a disturbing plot filled with outrageous violence and torture that is difficult to stomach.
The plot builds slowly, with widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) asking his film-producer friend Yasuhisa (Jun Kunimura) for help in finding a new wife. Yasuhisa has an inspired plan - he'll pretend he's casting a new movie and let Aoyama pick from the applicants. Simple. After one perfect date, Aoyama is smitten and has no hesitation in promising his new girl that he will love only her. Well, love hurts. In fact, it's excruciating. Perhaps this is one you should watch on your own. (1999)
The Food Programme
Today, Radio 4, 12.30pm
ONCE you've recovered from the strain of scooping the flesh out of a pumpkin that would dwarf even your eldest child and then carving it with the most gruesome grimace you can imagine (by looking in the mirror perhaps), you will likely find yourself wondering what to do with that massive pile of orange chunks heaped on the kitchen table. Sheila Dillon is here to help with a show dedicated to pumpkin cuisine. There's everything from pies and pasta to bread, even a meat stew that is cooked inside a hollowed-out pumpkin - although for this recipe I think you'll need one that hasn't got a gaping mouth cut out of it. If you're really serious about the vegetable, listen in for handy hints on how to grow your own. Perhaps you can break the record for the world's biggest - the current champ weighs in at 600kg.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South