Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Barbarians - Netflix

I've just finished watching Series One of the new Netflix historical drama Barbarians, based on the Teutoburg Forest disaster of 9AD in the forests of Germania and I have to say I very much enjoyed it.

Ok so it's not Tacitus and the actual battle is squeezed into one of the six episodes, not for me quite able to create the impression of the three to four day attritional fighting that characterised the battle, but that said, it did capture some of the key events from the historical sources, with some artistic license to the story line and just as importantly the attention to historical detail in the sets and the dress of the actors really worked to get me hooked and looking forward to another series, which if the reaction so far is to go by seems fairly certain.

The storyline pretty much attempts to follow the historical accounts with 'spoiler alert' Arminius hoodwinking his surrogate father Varus into marching his three legions off into the woods, with a really clever and well acted set up showing how the whole situation is arrived at with some gorgeous sets showing Varus's summer camp complete with multiple Roman tents and a very impressive German hamlet of A framed houses around a large tribal meeting house.

However as well as a well acted storyline I was immediately grabbed with the attention to detail applied not only to the sets but to the look of all those extras which hopefully the few pictures from the series help to illustrate.

None of the dubious outfits seen in Gladiator, with Romans in a mixture of lorica segmentata and hamata worn by the common soldiers illustrating the gradual shift from mail to plate armour that seems to have occurred at this time on the German limes and wearing plain undyed tunics rather than the red seen worn by their officers.

Alongside that we had German warriors all displaying the kind of dress you would expect to see in Ancient Warfare magazine, complete with top knots in the hair and appropriate shield designs.

All this and Roman officers speaking in Latin with subtitles for those of us barbarians not quite able to keep up with such a civilized tongue.

If you haven't tuned into this series yet then you might want to have a watch as this is not the usual sandals and spear ancient drama and things have been left perfectly for the Romans to come storming back in Series Two with Germanicus keen to establish a bit of Pax Romana.


  1. Interesting Jonathan. I read a quite different impression from George Anderson on his Musings on Wargames and Life blog. His seemed to concur with my impression having seen the shorts/trailer/preview. I may try the first episode and see if I get through it...! I lasted three of four episodes of Vikings before I could not stand any more! :)
    Regards, James

    1. Hi James,
      All this stuff is very subjective at the end of the day and I appreciate that 'historical nerds' like me set the bar high when it comes to historical authenticity, whatever that is. I feel sorry for the folks in my family who sit down to watch anything purporting to be historical with me and try very hard to be as forgiving and quiet as possible.

      Like you, I struggled with Vikings, especially with Mercian warriors looking like something out of Cromwell's New Model Army, but in the end decided to watch it for the story line, desperately ignoring the pathetic excuse for any attempt at being historical, certainly in terms of the look of the thing; and don't get me started on a recent show purporting to be about the Roman invasion of Britain, 'Britannia' I think it was called. That got switched off within the first five minutes when I realized how appalling it was.

      I found I needed to stick with Babarians, certainly past the first episode, as for me it began a little bit slowly but warmed up as it progressed and the characters were developed.

      The best historical dramas attempt to straddle a line between appealing to the authenticity of the look and creating a fast paced drama, perhaps something like Zulu being a prime example of when it is done well, and even that film is starting to show its age with those aggravating white helmets worn by the common soldiers in particular, together with the less than convincing hand to hand combat scenes, but I can still persuade myself to sit and watch it with the boys on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

      Anyway, I write as I find on this blog and if any piece of media makes it on here in a review or commentary it must have appealed and thus I reckon it would to people who like similar stuff to me.

      I hope you enjoy Barbarians.


    2. Thank you for that detailed and thoughtful response Jonathan. Much appreciated. I won't be rushing to see it, not least as it is not yet available through Netflix in Aust.(!), but I'll take note of your suggestion to give it more than one episode when/if I do!
      Kind regards, James

  2. Just added it to my watch list. Thanks for the heads up JJ.