Britannia Series 2

Britannia (Sky Atlantic)

Back for a second run – presumably with a remit to fill the Game of Thrones-shaped hole in Sky Atlantic’s schedules – this trippy take on the Roman invasion of Britain remains as gloriously demented as ever.

Created by Jez Butterworth – whose much feted play Jerusalem takes a similar interest in ‘the lost gods of England’ – and his brother Tom, Britannia depicts this (pre)sceptred isle as a land of magic and witchcraft, where druids hold all-night raves in the woods, and Mackenzie Crook’s cadaverous, skull-headed shaman Veran mutters prophecies of a child saviour – ‘the one who can stir the dead, tear down temples, shift the pillars of time’. (Everyone talks like this in Britannia – as if the local dialect is movie taglines.)

Having crossed the seas to this ‘cursed land’ in the previous series, the Romans are finding the natives harder to conquer than expected (think Asterix, but with a lot more blood and sex). Not that this appears to have put a dent in David Morrissey’s swaggering General Aulus – a man who thinks nothing of casually murdering a roomful of children before breakfast.

Trouble arrived this week, though, in the form of Emperor Claudius (the fabulous Steve Pemberton), rocking up on an elephant that played havoc with his piles, and complaining about being marooned in this ‘dank, grey hellpit on the edge of the world. No offence,’ he added to Annabel Scholey’s local warrior queen, Amena.

It was essentially an AD43 twist on that sitcom staple, the boss coming to dinner, except this one ended with Aulus poisoning the Emperor and then taking a wizz on him while declaring ‘I am hell. Where I walk is hell.’ (He talks like that a lot.)

Britannia is impressively cinematic – Sky has obviously thrown a lot of money at this – but the house style is so knowingly, ludicrously OTT (complete with pounding glam-rock soundtrack) that the finished result is more Jesus Christ Superstar than Ben Hur or Spartacus. I can’t decide if it’s brilliant or terrible, but it’s certainly never dull.


The Great Staycation (BBC One)

Proof that regional telly is alive and… if not exactly kicking, then at least still twitching, The Great Staycation showcased 11 unusual holiday ‘experiences’ from around the UK. Best of the bunch was Dot’s Farm (shown in the North West, and now available to the rest of us on iPlayer), in which said Dot, a cheerily determined Lancashire lass, lured guests to her family’s hill farm to enjoy a spot of ‘goat yoga’. That’s yoga, with goats. Welcome to modern Britain.


The Cockfields (Gold)

This new sitcom is basically Meet the Parents transplanted to the Isle of Wight, with Bobby Ball instead of Bobby De Niro. Which is a big step up in my book. Joe Wilkinson and the ubiquitous Diane Morgan play Simon and Donna, spending the weekend with his sweet but overbearing mum (Sue Johnston) and stepdad (Ball) in a funny and toe-curling look at the exquisite awkwardness of inter-generational get-togethers.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, 14 November, 2019

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