There has been/is some really good TV of late…

And will be.

On SBS I have been relishing as one who studied Latin and taught Ancient History Mary Beard’s reworking of the history of the Roman Empire, drawing on more sources than we ever had access to! Brilliant.

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Mary Beard in Timgad, from last night’s episode

On IMDb Guardian reviewer Chitra Ramaswamy says it so well:

The Cambridge classics professor makes real-life history as moreish as an episode of Game of Thrones

Hail, Mary Beard! The most subversive and impish of dons has returned to Rome. Watch her enter the gladiatorial ring of primetime telly and square up to epitaphs, launch herself at city walls, and make the past as moreish as an episode of Game of Thrones. This time Beard – as she likes to be called – is rewriting Roman imperialism with a glint in her eye and a pair of silvery hi-tops on her feet. Ignore the macho and American-sounding title: Mary Beard’s Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit (BBC2) is a thoughtful and resolutely British series that, like its predecessors, deserves to draw in viewers by the million…

The UK Telegraph:

The Romans had roads, as everyone knows, leading straight from Spain to Greece to Turkey, with a signpost every mile. Less famously, they also had service stations, where the food was underwhelming. “Latin literature, from Horace down, is sprinkled with complaints about the seedy caffs and lodging houses on Roman roads,” says Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard. “They sold you ghastly food at rip-off prices, and the beds were crawling with bugs.”

Beard’s new four-part series, Ultimate Rome: Empire Without Limit, sets out to find out what everyday life was like for the ordinary people who might have visited such places, forcing down the Roman equivalent of a Ginster’s pasty on the road. “This isn’t a programme about one bloody battle after another,” she tells me. “It’s about how the empire worked, for as many people as possible.”

And reviewing SPQR, Beard’s latest book, Ray Cassin recounts a memorable debate on Greece v. Rome in which Beard for Rome opposed and trounced Boris Johnson – yes, that one.

But, although Beard is always mindful of her stricture against treating the Romans as our contemporaries, the parallels between the Roman world she portrays and the globalised world of the early 21st century are sometimes tantalisingly close…

The Romans claimed two mythical ancestors: Aeneas, the refugee who guided fellow survivors of the Trojan War to a haven in Italy, and Romulus, who founded the city itself. These are stories of outsiders becoming insiders, and other myths of the time of the kings, such as the Rape of the Sabine Women that so fascinated Renaissance painters, arguably reflect the same awareness: that there was no such thing as an ethnically “pure” Roman, however much Rome’s patrician ruling class liked to think of themselves as such.

This willingness to absorb outsiders, sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, made Rome unique in the ancient world. As Beard noted when chiding Johnson, ancient Athens was never so welcoming. The much-vaunted Athenian democracy (a system not embraced by other cities in the Greek world) was an elite polity limited to a relatively small number of free-born Athenian males. The city’s large body of resident foreigners, as much as women and slaves, were excluded.

It is impossible to read SPQR without making comparisons with attitudes to race and inclusion in the history of subsequent European imperialisms, and with contemporary anxieties about the global movement of asylum seekers….

This is very much evident, but not overplayed, in the TV series – and it looks as if next Sunday is the last episode. So that’s 7.30 Sunday taken care of.

SBS next Sunday at 8.30 offers a documentary about the Revenant of Oz. I am sure it will be good. I am told Alan Jones’s lounge room is simply stunning, and Marcia Langton pithy in the extreme. But I am not sure I could stand an hour of it. Further, it clashes with Barracuda.

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Some of the cast of Barracuda, Elias Anton on the right.

So that’s settled then. I could watch the episode of Barracuda on Thursday night, but that’s ruled out this coming week as SBS wins that slot for me. Barracuda has proven a real winner. I have been close enough to the career of an Olympic swimmer (my cousin’s daughter Beverley, Gold Medallist at Munich in 1972) to recognise much that is authentic in the show. See also my 2014 post The swimmer.

Barracuda: unmissable.

Oh and on the Revenant, see You’re entitled to your opinion, unless it’s not based on facts.

I can’t watch Barracuda on Thursday because on Wednesday and Thursday SBS is showing the first two parts of the 2016 remake of Roots. I did see the original and I do remember the degree of controversy about the book and the first series, but I really think this is too important to let pass.

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See the SBS page. Rotten Tomatoes says: “”A powerfully impressive — and still relevant — update on a television classic, Roots boasts remarkable performances, deep emotion, and occasionally jarring beauty” and it scores 97%. Note too the involvement of Australian directors Bruce Beresford and Phil Noyce.

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