First look UK TV review: Britannia Season 3
Ivan Radford | On 24, Aug 2021
Season 3 of Britannia premieres on Tuesday 24th August, with all episodes available at once on-demand.
“Not now, love. Daddy’s having runes carved into his head.” That’s the unmistakeable sound of Sky’s Britannia returning to our screens with the same garrulous charm that made its first two seasons must-watch TV for anyone who finds history too historical and Game of Thrones too understated. Season 3 just as unnervingly dark, amusingly warped and disturbingly entertaining.
The series has a freewheeling, off-the-cuff vibe that feels like they’re making each season up as they go along – Jez Butterworth, who co-created the series with Tom Butterworth, describes their process as “creating by following goose bumps” – but what becomes increasingly clear is that the duo have the knack of knowing just what to do with each character. And so while Season 2 turned into the Mackenzie Crook show, with the Worzel Gummidge star (who was in Butterworth’s play Jerusalem) playing warlock brothers Veran and Harka, Season 3 pushes Crook into the background to ramp up the focus on David Morrissey’s arrogant Roman general, Aulus – and, more specifically, his wife, Hempel (Sophie Okonedo).
Morrissey has always been a grounding presence for the show, representing both the imperial authority of Rome and the individual abuse of that power. But after a season of smirking and swiping aide his enemies, thanks to a partnership with Harka and the decisive seizing of a Celtic stronghold, Aulus is put in his place somewhat by his auspicious spouse, whose acolytes swarm through Aulus’ new villa overlooking the town of Verulamium.
Back on the Celtic side of the fence, the trajectory of Cait (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) continues to unfold in increasingly unpredictable ways, as the series repeatedly undermines the notion of a Chosen One and upends any chance of the prophecy involving her coming to pass. Tellingly, though, that comes from her own actions here, as Cait steps into adulthood with a deserved sense of agency and a playful sense of humour that lets Worthington-Cox shine without losing her brutal knack for survival – she’s as formidable when she’s holding a chicken as when she’s holding a knife.
Meanwhile, in another smart move, the always-witty Julian Rhind-Tutt is paired up with the dryly amusing Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Rhind-Tutt’s former Celt prince-on-the-run is taken in by the druids to become an apprentice – and appointed to Kaas’ impatient Divis as a mentee, complete with the wonderfully naff name of “Kwunt”.
As well as finding fun new cast combinations to tease out different sides of existing characters, this tweaking and focused paring-down of the ensemble also opens up room for new players to meddle with the dynamics – including the welcome return of Zoë Wanamaker as Queen Antedia, now on a burning quest for revenge, and Aulus’ former prefectus, Lucius (Hugo Speer, set to up his presence from Season 2).
That’s enough of a loose thread to keep things hanging coherently together, but Britannia knows that it’s best when it keeps things fast and loose, and so it lets mentions of mysterious leader Lokka simmer in the background, while giving centre-stage to its new Big Bad: Hempel. Sophie Okonedo’s clearly having a ball as the over-the-top force of nature, who swans about like she owns the place with costumes, hair and make-up that seem to dominate the screen more every time we see her. She’s nasty, unnerving and intimidating, even as her bickering exchanges with her disoriented hubby knowingly veer into sitcom territory. In between them, the excellent Annabel Scholey drives up the political tensions as Amena, the calculating Cantii ruler who has shacked up with Aulus in Hempel’s absence.
The result is dark, decadent and deliciously twisted, balancing a chaotic approach to fantasy tropes with a cast that’s entirely game for the ride – and devours every chunk of implausible dialogue and vivid, trippy scenery with a ravenous appetite. “You don’t eat anyone without my say so,” someone orders early on. You suspect it’s only a matter of time.
Britannia is available on Sky Atlantic. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, for £9.99 a month with no contract. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.