This contains SPOILERS for "Rome"'s second season episode 16. If you haven't seen it, DO NOT READ it if you don't want to be spoiled...
Sorry, I just hate to spoil people who don't want to be...
This week's "Rome" was "Testudo et Lepus" (The Tortoise and the Hare). I haven't quite puzzled that out yet... usually the titles of the episodes are much more obvious than this one. I suppose Octavian could have been the Tortoise and Marc Antony the Hare, since that's how the civil war works out (though it's not over yet). I don't know... whatever... My big beef with this episode is that they switched Octavians... I realize that they can't have a 17 year old actor play Octavian from age twelve to early thirties, but they could have 1.) come up with a better time to transition... like during one of the several year breaks between episodes... and 2.) they could have cast his replacement better.
The younger Octavian is played by the amazingly talented Max Pirkis. You may remember him from "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" where he played Lord Blakeney. He shone as Octavian. Perfectly in character, perfectly in the period at all times. He showed a confidence that was rarely betrayed by the youth of his character, and when it was, it was always appropriate. He was always just so... Octavian. His entire performance was flawless.
Even so, I knew that they were going to replace him at some point. I figured they'd do that during a several year break in the story. They had made major changes during such a break in the first season. When they began filming Max was somewhere around 15, maybe a bit younger. Halfway through the first season, Octavian is sent away out of Rome for school during the entirety of the war between Pompey and Caesar... so for several years, although they leave the exact number of years ambiguous. When he came back to the show, the actor was a bit older, a bit taller (or at least they filmed him in such a way to make him seem taller), but they also dressed the character significantly older, and Max changed the character's body language, made it more confident and less boyish, so that the aging seemed real. They could have done something similar when they jumped to a new actor... But instead, the script is pretty clear that the jump is only a few months, not even a full year... and yet when we see Octavian again, after he whipped Mark Antony's army in Mutina, he looks at least 10 years older. Sloppy... very sloppy...
This new guy not only does not look like an older version of Max Pirkis, his body language and character study is all wrong. His name is Simon Woods, and he looks like the younger brother of Paul Bettany with darker, more auburn hair. And he's got the same kind of body language as Paul Bettany too... I've seen it very disappointingly labeled as "fruity" on the HBO "Rome" message boards... I wouldn't say "fruity" because that implies some inaccurate and prejudicial things toward people who would traditionally be labeled this way, and I would never mean to imply that. I would say it's not Octavian. The self-assured bearing that I would have expected is not there. He doesn't speak the same way... Max gave Octavian a very distinctive way of speaking, and Simon Woods has obviously not made any attempt to emulate it. There's too much flourish in the way he delivers lines, as opposed to the way Max did it. He's much more relaxed and casual around unfamiliar people than I would have expected, when Max and the earlier scripts had established firmly that Octavian was rather slow to warm up to people he didn't know and very formal in public situations. All of this *could* have been character development, this is true, but they never showed it on screen, and I can't buy such a major, unexplained change in what the show has presented was an absence of just a few months. I don't mean to disparage Simon Woods, but I think he was miscast in this case, although I very much look forward to seeing him in other roles in the future.
- The developing romance between Marcus Agrippa and Octavia... While I think it is *very* cute, it's not historical... in fact, if they're going to be historical, in a few episodes Octavia will be forced by the Senate to marry Mark Antony. So I'm not sure where they're going to go with it...
- Another thing I noticed is that Octavia has been widowed and unmarried for more than 10 years in the show's chronology... ::tisk, tisk:: Didn't and wouldn't have happened... not in Rome... She was married to an old Senator as a teenager, had three children, he died of natual causes, then a few years later she was married to Mark Antony and had three children with him before he began his fatal affair with Cleopatra. And they aren't bothing to age Octavia, who now looks like Octavian's little sister, instead of his older sister by several years... Kerry Condon who plays her is only 6 days older than me.
- They also aren't aging anyone else... Only Octavian... So it's a bit wierd that no one else is aging over the course of 20 some odd years of history... hmmm... And they aren't aging the other young children nearly fast enough to keep up. Niobe's son only looks about 8 years old, and he was an infant in the first episode. So does this mean that only eight years should have passed? Eventhough there were 8 years in the first season alone? First season began in 50 BCE with Caesar finishing up his Gallic Wars and ends in 44 BCE when Caesar is assassinated. So that's six or seven years there... Second season is going from 44 BCE to 27 BCE when Octavian is made emperor in the last episode De Patre Vostro (literally: "About Our Father"), so over 17 years. (There had to have been a better point to switch Octavians... ::sighs::) And they've used the same actress for Vorena the Younger since the first episode... she can't be more than 12 or so, at most. So more sloppiness... or they are compressing time so that the entire series takes place over a fewer number of years than the actual history did, and then not bothering to tell anyone that that is what they're doing...
It's bad when I start analyzing television and movies closely. They always fall apart under scrutiny.