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Case Number 19761: Small Claims Court

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The Roman Invasion Of Britain

Acorn Media // 2009 // 138 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roman Martel (Retired) // September 25th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Roman Martel was shocked to discover historians considered his vacation to Britain a full-fledged invasion.

The Charge

"The story of Britain's first empire." Um, sure, if you wanna look at it that way.

The Case

It's funny, I knew the Romans conquered and ruled Britain. I'd heard of Hadrian's Wall, and knew the city of Bath was named after a Roman bathhouse. But I never really grasped how long this rule lasted nor how much it cost the people of Britain and the Romans who settled there.

This documentary series covers all the main points. It starts in 43 AD when the Roman emperor Claudius (of I, Claudius fame) initiates an invasion of the island. His goal: To bring legitimacy to his rule, by succeeding where Julius Caesar failed, and secure a large amount of material resources and slaves for the empire. The invasion went well, and soon the Romans controlled a vast amount of Britain; a rule which lasted nearly 400 years.

I had no idea.

The Roman Invasion of Britain is separated into three episodes. The first deals with the invasion and the events leading up to it, as well as the British reaction and resistance to the occupancy. The second episode covers the deadly revolt by the Queen Boudicca; a hard-core woman who took the battle to the Roman's, killing their citizens as well as their troops. Also covered is the aftermath of the rebellion, as well as interesting ways Rome tried to win over the Britons with all kinds of innovations. One of the most interesting elements was that Rome created the very first towns and cities for Britain. Before the invasion, the Britons lived in small villages, and the concept of towns or cities was utterly alien to them. The final episode discusses typical life in Roman Britain, from the decline of Roman rule to what happened after the Romans pulled out. The series wraps up with an examination of the influence these events still have on Great Britain today.

The energetic and enthusiastic Bettany Hughes serves as our narrator and guide, taking her film crew all over England, Scotland, and Wales. We get see ruins of Roman fortresses, towns, bathhouses, amphitheaters, an ancient gold mine, and a full explanation behind what Emperor Hadrian was up to with that Wall. Most of the facts come form source material provided by the Roman writer Tacitus. Also on hand are several experts who provide interesting insight into the Britons and their conquerors. And let's not forgot the obligatory re-enactors providing background color. While some are a bit cheesy, I have to give them kudos for authentic-looking Roman armor.

The footage of the ruins and the surrounding countryside is gorgeous, and the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen shows it to the best advantage. If there is a downside to this set, it's the sound. I'm really hoping this was a problem with my review copy and not something that will affect all versions of the finished product. The balance of the Dolby 2.0 stereo mix was truly off in places; the music and effects overwhelming Hughes' narration. This was especially problematic during the battle recreations. Other times, the narration made everyone sound like they were at the bottom of a metal trash. The second episode faired the worst. Oddly the final episode was mixed just fine.

The disc does come with some extras. First is a Viewer's Guide that provides additional information not covered in the documentary, including a breakdown of Roman armor and weapons, a biography of Tacitus, and an examination of the Britons before Roman rule. We also get a series of extended interviews with some of the series' experts, providing a bit more information than originally broadcast. Finally, there are text biographies for the major historical figures mentioned as well as Bettany Hughes.

The Verdict

I learned a great deal and was inspired to seek out more information. The sound may is something to keep in mind, when making a purchase, but you can always pop on the subtitles. This is an easy recommendation, for anyone wanting to know more about this part of the Ancient World. Not Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (CC)
Running Time: 138 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Foreign
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Extended Interviews
• Text Biographies
• Viewer's Guide

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