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Series / Britannia

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Britannia (2018-2023) is a British historical period drama the first co-production between Sky and Amazon Prime Video, and stars Kelly Reilly, Ian McDiarmid, David Morrissey, Zoë Wanamaker, Liana Cornell and Stanley Weber.

Set in 43 AD, it follows the Roman army led by Aulus Plautius (Morrissey) as The Roman Empire launches an invasion of the island of Britannia, a mysterious land occupied by savage warriors and powerful Druids who claim to channel the powerful forces of the underworld.

Amazon bowed out after the first series, while Epix joined to co-produce the third series with Sky, having aired the first two series in anticipation of the third.

The series was cancelled in 2023 after three seasons, ending on an unresolved cliffhanger.

This series features examples of:

  • Action Girl:
    • Kerra is introduced providing fire support in the wedding fight between the Cantii and the Regni.
    • Islene is the only person at the coming of age ceremony to put up a decent fight, killing Romans with their own swords. Unfortunately, she's eventually overwhelmed.
    • Hella, the Irish bounty hunter. First she slaughters the other bounty hunters, then she becomes the only person to get the better of the Outcast, nearly killing him with a well-timed ambush.
  • Aerith and Bob: None of the Britons have period-appropriate names, while most of the Romans do. Some names like Ossian and Phelan are at least technically Celtic, though not British, but Anglo-Saxon names like Lindon and Sawyer are less excusable.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: At the climax of season two, when Harka lies dying he can only whisper the Veran's true name, while Veran says his true name in turn. Veran cradles him, and seems to see only his dying brother from this life, not the ancient feud between Veran and Harka.
  • Anti-Magic: May be the case with Cait. She easily walks past the Outcast's barrier, swallows a stone filled with dark magic with no ill effects, and when she and Pwykka meet he can't even touch her.
  • Artistic License – History: So much that it has its own article.
  • Badass and Child Duo: The Outcast reluctantly takes Cait under his wing after her village is destroyed.
  • Badass Boast:
    • The Outcast matter-of-factly says he is going to destroy the entire Roman Empire, by himself:
      Cait: Wow. You must be really important. So what's the mission?
      Outcast: Isn't it obvious? I have to stop the Romans. I have to send them home. Then, to make sure it doesn't happen again, I have to go to Rome and kill the Emperor. Then I have to face down The Great Earth Demon Lokka himself and to be perfectly honest, I haven't thought that far yet.
    • The Roman troops have been shown to be terrified of Brittania and its gods. After the Romans' first victory, Plautius plants the Roman banner in the middle of a burning Brittanian village, next to a pile of Brittanian corpses, and makes it clear what he thinks on the matter.
      Plautius: Behold, gods of Brittania. I am Rome. And where I walk is Rome.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: While we don't have much in the way of good guys, at the end of the first season the Romans subjugate the Cantii and massacre the Regni, Plautius personally kills Kerra, the scheming Amena is crowned as the puppet-queen, and Cait is left in the hands of the Druids — whose plans tend not to end well for those involved.
  • Barbarian Longhair: Standard issue for the barbaric Britons.
  • Berserk Button: Aulus may be remarkably cool with his best friend trying to assassinate him, but piss in his bath?
    Aulus: Nobody. Pisses. In MY bath.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: All the Druids have eyes of pure black without pupils.
  • Black Vikings: Zig-zagged with Antonius. At the time and place, being a black legionary would have been actually possible, but only if he was the son of an auxilia soldier that eventually gained Roman citizenship through a long service, which doesn't seem to be the case here by the way Antonius reccounts his origin and family. More egregiously, he's described as a Numidian, which in real life would have made him olive-skinned, not black.
  • Butt-Monkey: Phelan. His wife Amena (whom he really doesn't like) is very publicly sleeping with another man (who is also her husband, on the orders of the Druids), and very publicly tells everyone how much more of a man Lindon is. Then his father dies, and despite being the official heir, he is passed over in favour of his sister. And then he is persuaded to run away with an enemy princess who believes herself to be the incarnation of a goddess, only to be told by Veran that she is mistaken and he has thrown away everything which he once had for nothing. Oh, and he spends most of his time on the run suffering from diarrhea.
  • Compelling Voice: The Outcast has the power to make people do what he wants with his voice.
  • Covered with Scars: Vitus Aurelius, optio of the Eighth Legion, has a face covered in ritual scars.
  • The Chosen One: Played with a lot. Various characters believe themselves to be chosen by the Gods for one role or another. Some of them turn out to be right, some die ignonimously, and some simply get told that they have misunderstood the prophecy.
  • Decoy Protagonist:
    • Antonius is introduced at the start of the first episode as a main character and the point of view character for the common Roman soldier, but he is then killed by the end of the first episode.
    • Princess Kerra is a main character throughout the first season, and even believes that the Hope Prophecy is about her, but she learns that Cait is the true Chosen One, and is later killed when the Romans conquer her people at the end of the first season.
  • Demonic Possession: Claimed by the Outcast, for both himself and Aulus Plautius. There is extremely strong evidence that he is right about both of them, too.
  • Determinator: The Optio is so tough and his loyalty to Rome so strong that he doesn't break even when the Cantii are cutting chunks of his skin off during interrogation.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: No matter how much the Outcast tries to get the nameless girl to fear Pwykka, impressing that he's an Eldritch Abomination and Ancient Evil that even the Druids fear, she repeatedly snarks at him, ignores his warnings, and when he tells her a stone contains untold dark magic, she swallows it.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: At the climax of season two, Veran cradles Harka as he dies, and seems to mourn him as his brother from this life, not the ancient feud.
  • Divide and Conquer: The Romans' tactic to conquer Britannia is to exacerbate and exploit the enmities between the Briton tribes.
  • Doomed Hometown: Cait's village is the first place the Roman army attacks. They destroy it and take the survivors as slaves.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The crucifixion of Jesus is seen in flashback, where Lucius is the Roman soldier who stabbed him with a spear. However he is never named, only referred to via vague euphemisms as a preacher or messiah. The credits don't even name him: He is credited only as "Crucified Man".
  • Everyone Looks Sexier if French: The one Gaulish character, Lindon, is presented as extremely handsome and virile, and desired by both Kerra and Amena.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The Romans are a brutal invasion force that kills or enslaves everyone in their paths, while the Britons are ruled by bloodthirsty kings in constant war with each other and follow the dictates of the Druids, who forbid anyone from being literate under penalty of death and practice Human Sacrifice.
  • Eye Scream: Inflicted upon Cait's father by the Romans. The result is... not pretty.
  • Facial Markings: Common among the Britons, but especially their royalty and priesthood. The Outcast has runes carved into his forehead, and the monarchs of the Cantii have their destinies tattooed on their faces by the Druids — as does Cait, in the final episode. And as a plot point, most of the characters can not read the markings and are unaware of their meaning.
  • Flaying Alive:
    • King Pellenor ordered this type of execution for his beloved wife on orders of the Druids, just because she had a Roman grandfather.
    • The Cantii use a slow version of this as torture to interrogate prisoners.
  • A God Am I: Princess Ania of the Regni believes herself to be the earthly incarnation of Brenna, the goddess of war, dreams, and wells. When she finally meets the Veran he tells her directly that she is mistaken. She is not Brenna, she is not a goddess, she is just who she is.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Lokka, the 'earth demon' whom the druids regard as the ultimate enemy and source of evil in the world, is behind the machinations of Aulus Plautius and the entire Roman invasion.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Amena resents the respect and interest that Lindon shows towards Kerra, and tries to turn King Pellenor against her whenever she can.
  • Groin Attack: In the backstory, the root of the war between the Cantii and the Regni is the marriage between Kerra and Antedia's son, which ended rather abruptly when she gelded him on the wedding night.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Christian themes begin to emerge in the second season, growing heavily intertwined with the druid prophecies. The spear used to stab Jesus during the crucifixion is part of the prophecy of the Chosen One, and Cait becomes heavily associated with Cross iconography.
  • Historical Domain Character:
  • Historical Fantasy: The series retells the Roman invasion of Britain, but makes the magic of the Druids a real thing.
  • Historical In-Joke: One of the officers in Plautius' legion is named Vespasian, like the future Roman emperor who indeed commanded one of the legions in the historical Plautius' invasion force. That this officer is not meant to be the famous Vespasian can be deduced from his much lower rank and the fact that his head gets pincushioned by 4 Cantii arrows in the second episode.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: It's safe to say that the real Aulus Plautius was never part of a cannibalistic cult worshiping a (fictitious) demon much less that he killed his own son.
  • Hollywood Healing: In his fight with Hella, the Outcast is stabbed repeatedly, gutted like a fish, and left floating face-down in a river. His recovery consists of knife-fighting a bear and then using its tendons and teeth to stitch his own stomach up, after which he appears to be perfectly fine.
  • Holy Lance: Season two sees the introduction of the lance itself, with Lucius portrayed as the Roman who stabbed Jesus on the cross. The spear is part of the Druid Chosen One prophecy where it is known as the "Spear of the silver dawn", where Cait will use it to drive the Romans back into the sea.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Cult of Lokka regularly cook and eat people as part of their traditions. They say it is to sate Lokka's own hunger, but they also clearly enjoy it for its own sake.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Queen Antedia tries to get Plautius to seal their alliance by kissing her feet. He persuades her to accept a compromise of him kissing her hand. Then she demands that his second in command, Lucius, must kiss her feet. Plautius is okay with that and forces Lucius to obey.
  • Lady Macbeth: Amena may be the most ambitious character in the show and she does nothing but plot and intrigue to manipulate her husband to get power.
  • Legacy Character: Season two reveals that "Veran" is a title passed down over the ages, supposedly since the death of the first Veran 10,000 years ago. After the death of each Veran the druids choose a pair of young brothers and re-enact the story of Veran and Harka to turn them into new incarnations, which are now viewed as being the first two men. As with most aspects of the Druid's magic in this series, it seems to carry enough truth to imply that the identity and memories really are passed down.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Once she gets over the initial shock of her village being destroyed, Cait proves to have quite a cutting tongue.
  • Made a Slave: Anyone that the Romans don't kill during an attack, they turn into slaves.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The series initially leaves open the question of whether the druids truly have magic or not, as there can be many interpretations of events. However as the first season progresses there are more and more supernatural elements, culminating in direct supernatural abilities in all factions starting in the second season.
  • Meaningful Echo: Aulus Plautius closes the first day of the invasion by planting a Roman flag in a pile of burning corpses and proclaims "Behold, gods of Britannia. I am Rome. And where I walk is Rome." He does this in front of his soldiers to make a big show about why they are there and what their goals are. When he poisons Emperor Claudius in the bath, with no witnesses and nobody to repeat the story, he quietly 'introduces' himself with "I am Hell. And where I walk, is hell."
  • Meaningful Rename: After spending two seasons unsure of what her name is since the Romans attacked before she could get her adult name, she decides that 'Cait' is actually her true name after all.
  • Mood Whiplash: In a comedic sequence, the Outcast hypnotizes a pair of Roman soldiers into becoming his captors/escorts/friends. First he turns them against each other, then calms down their quarrel and makes them into best friends. Then he has one of them decapitate the other, leaving him traumatized for the next few episodes.
  • Mushroom Samba: A pair of Roman deserters find a druid's storehouse, and decide it would be a good idea to try some of the potions and herbs contained therein. Cue hallucinations, vomiting, meandering philosophy... and then a four-month Time Skip after which they're still sitting in the hut experimenting with drugs, only now they both have long hair and beards.
  • Nasty Party: An arranged marriage between King Pellenor's nephew and Queen Antedia's niece turns out to be an ambush by Antedia in order to try and kill Pellenor. The groom gets his throat cut, but the bride is taken prisoner by the Cantii.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Outcast trying to get to Cait causes her to run to Kerry and then into the Romans, causing a fight to break out and ruining their truce.
  • Offing the Offspring:
    • King Pellenor turned his daughter over to the druids, fully expecting them to order her death as a sacrifice to the gods. The druids choose him for the sacrifice instead.
    • Aulus Plautius gave up his own son to the Cult of Lokka to be killed, cooked, and eaten in a ritual. He claims to miss his son every day, but when pressed he admits that he isn't sorry since he believes so deeply in Lokka.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Britannia has a reputation as a monster infested hellhole, such that the legionnaires are terrified of invading the place.
  • Poison and Cure Gambit: After failing to convince Emperor Claudius to let him remain in Britannia and wage war against the druids, Aulus Plautius poisons him in the bath and then makes a big show of rescuing him. He says it was the druids who were behind the poisoning, and the Emperor changes his orders to stay and wipe them out.
  • Rasputinian Death: King Pellenor suffers a traditional Threefold Death at the hands of the Druids.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Veran is said to be the second man ever created, being at least 10,000 years old, and he personally claims to have met Julius Caesar 98 years previously. Given how much magic is present, either or both of these claims may be true. In season 2 one of the druids explains that THIS Veran was born not so long ago and gods chose him to be one. There were hundreds of Verans all of whom seem to have one common memory and personality since the birth of the first one ten thousand years before the action of series.
  • Religion of Evil: The Cult of Lokka fully embraces Lokka as a "demon" and gleefully engages in ritualistic cannibalism. There is no effort to portray Lokka as some sort of misunderstood or nobly-intentioned being, they enjoy serving an evil overlord.
  • Reverse Grip: When Kerra is ambushed by Regni, she fights them off with her sword held like this.
  • Savage Piercings: One of the more notable differences between the clean-cut Romans and the Britons, almost all of whom have at least their ears pierced. Veran, notably, has rings through his fingertips.
  • Sergeant Rock: Vitus Aurelius (whose rank of optio is roughly equivalent to that of a modern First Sergeant) is one of the toughest, most disciplined soldiers in the Roman invasion force.
  • Take Away Their Name:
    • The teenaged girl referred to in most material as 'Cait' actually has no name — Cait was her child name, which she discarded on the Solstice. The Romans attacked before she could take an adult name, so she currently has no name and spends several episodes anguishing over what her real name is. After she chooses defy the Chosen One prophecy, she decides that her name is Cait after all.
    • To create a new Veran and Harka, the Druids take two young brothers and recreate their story in order to turn them into their new incarnations. Afterwards, they are only the Veran and Harka. When Harka lies dying at the climax of season two, he says the Veran's true name, who says his in turn, and they seem to be themselves again instead of Veran and Harka.
  • Targeted Human Sacrifice: The Druids' gods are very picky about whom they want sacrificed to them, just ask King Pellenor.
  • Time Skip: In episode eight, jumping ahead "four moons" (lunar months).
  • The Unfavorite: Cait. Her father spends far too much time telling her how her sister was the special one, and makes it pretty clear that he would rather prefer Cait to have died instead.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The Romans' invasion of the island is helped by the fact that the different tribes of Britons are more worried about fighting each other than they are about dealing with the Romans. Lampshaded by Plautius himself:
    Plautius: Nine decades ago, when Caesar landed, the Celts were waiting on the beach in their thousands. Yesterday, not a single Celt was there to greet us. We march 50,000 men clear across Gaul, spend six weeks at the coast, quelling mutiny after mutiny, and still no word gets through. Tell you anything?
    Prefectus: The tribes are divided. We knew that.
    Plaitius: I'll wager not a single Celt knew we were coming. We've met no organized resistance inland. This place is at war with itself.
  • World of Action Girls: Britannia from the Roman perspective, as they run into warrior women wherever they go.