Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Roman Mysteries

CBBC have just started showing a glossy series based on the Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence. I haven't read the books, although from watching they seem to be like the Famous Five in Ancient Rome. That is not meant to be snide, I enjoyed the Famous Five books as a child very much, even if it did seem treachery to be reading something not published by Puffin.

I rather enjoyed this first episode, thought it was quite jolly. People ate snails and dormice, and explained who Vulcan was. Therefore it entertained, educated, and informed - tick! The stories centre around Flavia, the ten-year-old daughter of a sea captain living in Ostia. Flavia likes to find things out, and is a bit bossy (so, Julian). In the first episode she assembles her team: Jonathan, the son of the Jewish next-door neighbour; Nubia, an African slave that Flavia buys on impulse after hearing Jonathan's father, Dr Mordechai, say that it's not right to own people; and Lupus, a mute runaway who - in the books - has had his tongue cut out (not in the TV version, alas, although there was one point where someone asked him to stick out his tongue and I was sure they were going to go with it). So far Flavia is the only one who has had any lines, what with Lupus being mute and Nubia not speaking Latin, and Jonathan... well, not being the lead.

Which on one level is charming to watch: this very active, intelligent girl running about explaining what's going on to the people around her (and not once wishing she was a boy). But I do wish they hadn't made her so incredibly blonde: I mean, surely the daughter of a Roman sea captain living in Ostia wouldn't be so relentlessly... English? Combined with the young actor's lovely speaking voice, it's slightly disconcerting, like 1950s Britain's social structures have been plonked down into a Roman setting. Particularly when she's surrounded by these near-silent Others.

I'll carry on watching. It's hard to dislike a programme for which the information on the Sky box reads: "Flavia and her friends convince Admiral Pliny of the danger of Mount Vesuvius". Particularly when Pliny is being played by Simon Callow.


Toft said...

NO. Simon Callow? Now there is a casting I would never have imagined. How bizarre, and yet strangely fitting. Presumably that's Pliny the Elder, though, now I think about it, and I think Simon Callow is too larger-than-life to be him. Pliny the Elder was just large.

(HA, Admiral Pliny)

Toft said...

While I'm here, it occurred to me the other day to ask you if you'd seen 'Nightwatch'. It was a massive film in Russia a few years ago which made it into the West, it's sort of like a cross between BtVS and Callan. It's a really interesting take on the 'eternal battle between light and dark' story-type, and shot in this really grim, '70's-Manchester-style Moscow, and it's got moral ambiguity and people who turn into owls. And vampires. And it's in Russian! I think you might like it.

Una said...

He is playing it exactly as you might imagine it (and could be worse - could be Simon Cowell).

I've not seen Nightwatch, it sounds absolutely bloody brilliant! Owls!

The only thing Callan lacks is that it's not in Russian. Just to make it even more punishing.

Matthew Adams said...

She ought to have a friend called Claudia.

Flavia et Claudia puellae romanae sunt.

I dreamed of sophisticated storylines like those found in the modern textbooks. Ah Flavia! Why could my school not afford new books?

I, on the other hand, was stuck with the soldiers of the romans crossing the river. ("Translated" by one of my contemporaries in a bout of guesswork as "I speak latin fluently", which will cause me to chuckle once a month until I die).

Una said...

"Speaking Latin Fluently" has just made me laugh out loud again. Someone should have that as a blog title. I'll keep these Roman Mysteries on the tellybox for you, and perhaps we should examine the books themselves and see what they're like.

Oh look - you have a blog!