Sexy History (Part I), Rome

So I thought I would write a few posts, I don’t know how many yet, about a newish trend in television drama: the sexy costume/historical drama. Now, costume dramas have been with us for a very long time. They are usually thought of as stuffy and boring, at least by the younger viewers. I remember trying to watch a historical drama when I was in my teens and even though I am a genius and a very clever person (I know I’m not but I’m trying positive thinking. If I say it enough times then maybe I’ll start believing it. I don’t think that deconstructing the statement in parentheses right after I write it is the best way to achieve it, but it makes me happy) I kept getting bored and couldn’t go through watching the whole thing.

Now, unless you’re a history buff or an old person costume dramas didn’t seem to be too cool. I’m not saying that no one like them, it’s just that the seemed to be geared towards a specific audience that I wasn’t really part of. But something happened a few years ago and all of a sudden historical costume dramas became cool and sexy and edgy. Now, I might be wrong about when it started but my feeling was that it all started with Rome. Rome to me seems to have set a precedent that many series are trying to emulate. In fact I would go as far as to say that every new historical costume drama of the type I’m talking about wants to be Rome. Some succeed, some get close, some don’t, and some are even better.

So I thought I would start this series of posts by talking about Rome. It is after all the first one of its kind and is, as I said and at least in my opinion, the bench mark of modern historical costume dramas. Now the first thing about Rome that jumps at you is how sexy and full of sex it is. From very early on in the series someone gets naked and has a lot of quite graphic sex. This trend is maintained throughout the whole of the drama. I don’t think that there is a single episode that doesn’t involve some sex act. The graphic nature of these acts will vary. However, as we’ll find out later there is a series that goes a little further with the graphic sex, but that’s for later. This sexiness can feel exploitative at points, but I think that without it the realism of the series would have been impaired.

That’s the second thing one is struck with. It feels real. Rome and roman times are brought to life with the incredible sets, the great acting, and the wonderful writing. Everything blends in perfectly to make you feel like you are watching real Romans, albeit with British and Australian accents but still. The series is also violent. There is as much violence as there is sex. The violence is also very graphic, although again not as graphic as another series. The thing with the violence though is that it feel real. It feels realistic. Rome introduced a way of reimagining and telling stories through the medium of television. It is okay to say fuck, and shit and cunt if you want to make it real. It’s okay to show full frontal nudity, both male and female, and quite graphic sex. It’s okay to show violence. The point is that with Rome we all learned that all these things are okay if the story needs them.

What we ended up with is a retelling of the stories of Caesar, Mark Anthony, Cleopatra, and others on television. This retelling didn’t feel stuffy or boring, but sexy, and exciting, and titillating. The end result was one of the best series ever made for television and one that would change the way in which Costume Historical dramas are thought of. I do believe that there is a before and an after Rome. Now the rest of my blog posts in the Sexy History series will look at some of the other dramas that are in the vein of Rome. I will look at the ones I have watched, or am watching at the moment. I hope you enjoy this with me.

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