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Ultimate travels to the biggest set in the world to find out all about this magnificent series
Anyone can buy a plane ticket to Rome. A quick call, a flash of the credit card and the streets of one of the world’s most historical cities are yours. Yes, anyone can buy a plane ticket to Rome… but not everyone gets to travel back in time to when the city was at its height. When Caesar ruled with an iron fist, naked prostitutes freely roamed the alleyways and people were flayed alive for nothing more than coming last in a lying contest. Not everyone gets to do that, but we did.
Okay, so technically there was no time travel involved. No gull-winged sports cars, no ’50s phone boxes. No, in order for Ultimate to return to Caesar’s Empire we simply had to gain access to the set of the world’s biggest TV show in the heart of Italy. And that’s exactly what we did.
There are few film sets in the world which allow for total sensory immersion. All it takes is a quick meander round to the back of a store front or a partition wall to find scaffolding and MDF masking Craft Services. But here, in the midst of the gargantuan sets of HBO and BBC’s Rome, it was incredibly easy to fool yourself into thinking you’d just slipped back a couple of thousand years. From the massive authentic-looking buildings right down to the Roman-written notes on the walls, everything here has been crafted to make the daring new series look and feel like the real thing. Although, sometimes, a few things do slip through the net.
“We made one egregious and extraordinary mistake in Season One and that was something that I was sorry about,” says Jonathan Stamp, the series consultant for Rome. “We had a parrot on set which was a new world parrot so it probably wouldn’t have been here for another 1700 years. I got a very aggrieved letter from the British Ornithological Society telling me that I had lost the confidence of the British birding community. After that I spent sleepless nights.”
And who wouldn’t. Stamp would be our guide through the dusty streets of this palpable re-creation of Rome (it even smells of incense, the easiest way to make dramatic smoke on set), imparting not just soundbites about the show, but incredible revelations about the history that they try on a daily basis to re-create. That said, Stamp’s swift to point out that, while Rome looks and even feels authentic, there is a point at which dramatic licence comes into play.
“We’re making a drama, not a documentary,” Stamp admits. “And wherever we’ve needed to we’ve revised or adapted things in order to maximize the dramatic impact of what we’re trying to do. And we’re working in a long tradition of Roman-based movies in doing that. We have gone to great lengths to make all of the details of everyday life – in terms of costume, food, the way people react, the gestures of the news readers, those kind of things we’ve all done a huge amount of research into. And we’ve tried to make these things as authentic as we can. We’ve taken dramatic licence when we thought it was appropriate, when it would help us tell the story more.
by Stephen Payne & Grant Kempster
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