STUDIO: Athena Learning

MSRP: $29.99

RATED: Unrated

RUNNING TIME: 138 minutes

• Extended interviews with historians

12-page booklet
   • Biographies of major figures in the Roman conquest of Britain

The Pitch

In the 1st century AD, Rome finally turned its conquering gaze towards the small island of Britain. While it was a mixture of greed and politics that brought the Romans in the first place, the invaders would ultimately bestow upon the inhabitants knowledge of architecture, agriculture and military prowess.

The Humans

Bettany Hughes (Presenter, Historian), various historians.

The Nutshell

Oxford-educated historian and author Bettany Hughes walks around England pointing out ancient bridges, walls, and flattened structures. To help relay the historical point, cheap CGI and well-made reenactments help narrate the conflict, as told from throughout the various time periods.

“Where’s me house?”

The Lowdown

Historical documentaries can be a thing of splendor, if done right. In the right hands they can help inform and entertain at the same time, without coming across as too academic and stale. The Roman Invasion of Britain sits somewhere above the middle of the pack of these programs, but it isn’t due to a lack of enthusiasm from presenter Bettany Hughes.

Ancient Stallone.

Hughes, as is stated everywhere, was educated at Oxford, has written several historical papers, a book and has presented many documentaries from a wide range of subjects. Her presenting style is very energetic and you can tell she’s very excited about the subject matter, to the point where it’s almost contagious. Luckily she never comes across as a know-it-all, and that’s very refreshing.

However, Hughes isn’t the only reason to watch The Roman Invasion of Britain; the reenactments are great and well detailed. They’re filmed well, and the acting is good for a documentary. My only gripe is there may be too many of them. I’m of the opinion that for a documentary to succeed it would be better to rely more on classical sources, such as artwork, to help further the education. Reenactments are great, and they’re well-done here, I just wish there had been a little less of them and more Hughes and the historians.

It’s an ambitious production, for sure. From costumes to CGI work to large armies of extras, a lot of attention was put into the theatrical aspect of the documentary – although the CGI doesn’t quite hold its own in terms of quality. It looks cheap and rushed, which I’m sure it wasn’t, and it’s a shame the creators weren’t able to attain the same caliber as the costumes and acting. Unfortunately, it takes you out of the experience and is a weak link to an otherwise strong presentation.

“I can’t believe I have to wait 2,000 years before Critters is released!”

The costumes and acting, unlike the CGI, are very strong and help bolster the subject matter. Great attention to detail and historicity are evident, and obviously necessary for a project of this sort. The costume goes a long way in helping an actor become the character, and for historical pieces perhaps more so. The acting is of course not top-notch, but it’s still good as far as documentaries go, and the location filming only aids in the presentation factor. The dark, overcast and windy atmosphere adds to the story and helps Hughes and her actors with their representation of how life was around AD 43.

For documentary fans, The Roman Invasion of Britain is a good addition to the historical DVD shelf. It’s not too long (clocking in at 138 minutes), and will keep you interested. Full of well-made reenactments and an energetic presenter, you could do worse than to spend time learning about how Rome invaded Britain roughly 2,000 years ago.

Few knew HE was in this.

The Package

The Special Features are not the reason to own this disc, but give Athena credit for putting something along with the documentary. The 12-page booklet is interesting and informative, and I’m always a fan of well-thought-out inserts. The Biographies of the major figures are less impressive, as it’s all text based and not very well presented. Likewise, the extended interviews with the historians are nothing worth wasting your time with, as their best stuff is in the film itself.

A pity, but hardly a big deal.

7.8 OUT OF 10