‘The Caesars’ is a passion project for the ‘Goodfellas’ director.
Before Game of Thrones took HBO by storm, the network dipped its toe into medieval epic waters with Rome, a sprawling and expensive series that ran from 2005 to 2007. The show was popular with critics and did consistently well at the Emmys, but its prohibitive cost and rights difficulties with the BBC led to its abrupt cancellation. A planned five-season arc was cut short, but in its time on air, the show managed to tell the story of Julius Caesar from revolution to assassination.
Now Martin Scorsese is planning to draw once again from that same well, in a television series he’s developing with Vikings and The Tudors creator Michael Hirst. In an interview with The Guardian, Hirst discussed his collaboration with the film legend. Apparently, Scorsese has been nursing an obsession with the Roman Empire for some time now. Hirst mentions that Scorsese “genuinely loves the period and knows a lot about it.” He goes on to describe just how deep Scorsese’s interests go: “He got on the phone to Justin Pollard, my historical adviser. They chatted, partly in Latin, about sources for the stories and Roman poetry.”
The Rome portrayal of Julius Caesar was very much a classical portrait, with Ciarán Hinds playing an older Caesar on the verge of conquering Rome. Hirst says that his and Scorsese’s version of Caesar is very much a fresh, young iteration (perhaps this Caesar fucks?): “In the movies he’s usually a middle-aged guy, struggling with political complexities. But he was fantastically interesting and ambitious when he was younger. A lot of the Caesars came to power when they were young, and we’ve never really seen that on screen.” Hirst has made a name for himself by sprinkling sex and violence into staid historical tapestries, and Scorsese has never shied from those elements himself. One can assume The Caesars will follow suit.
There’s something very fitting about Scorsese tackling the rise and fall of Julius Caesar during this phase of his career. After years of telling stories of Italian backstabbing and treachery, who better than the master himself to go back to the very beginning to tell the original tale of Italian backstabbing? It’s also just plain nice to see incredible and venerable filmmakers like Scorsese embracing the things they’ve always been passionate about. Scorsese’s love for the Romanic period shone through in his film The Last Temptation of Christ (where David Bowie briefly played Roman leader Pontius Pilate), and it’s obviously something he’s been meaning to get around to for quite a while. While someone like Steven Spielberg is using his Hollywood cachet to make the musical he’s always dreamed of, his grittier counterpart is chasing his own dream.
At the same time, Scorsese’s record with television has been somewhat less encouraging than his stellar cinematic run. Boardwalk Empire started strong but petered to a close. Vinyl kicked things off with a supersized pilot directed by Scorsese that was essentially a film unto itself but soon flatlined in ratings and in audience engagement. Could HBO, after those two mishaps, take another chance on Scorsese’s television offerings? He’s deep in production on Netflix’s The Irishman right now, but it’s possible that Scorsese learned a lesson from past mistakes, and will spend a little bit more quality time on the set of The Caesars. If that’s the case, we may be in for something special.
There’s currently no airdate or network for The Caesars, but filming is expected to begin next year.