IT ASSAULTED viewers with rape, nudity and animal sacrifice in the opening episode. Yet the BBC series Rome is not pornographic but an accurate representation of the ancient world, the broadcasting watchdog has ruled.
Ofcom rejected viewer complaints about the £60 million BBC Two series, which has been described as “I Claudius on steroids”. Viewers complained that the US co-production, depicting the violent power struggle between Julius Caesar and Pompey, was pornographic and unacceptable viewing at 9pm. Even Michael Apted, who directed some episodes, accused the BBC of sensationalism by re-editing episodes to emphasise sex and violence.
The regulator, however, described the series as an accurate reflection of the morality of its age. Rome’s opening episode featured a rape committed by a victorious Roman soldier in Gaul and graphic scenes of Atia, Julius Caesar’s calculating niece, bathing nude in front of her son. But Ofcom said that the drama displayed a “matter-of-fact attitude to sex of the ruling class as, in some cases, sex was used to further political or social aspirations ”.
Atia’s sex scenes were “frank, but not overly explicit for this time of evening”. The rape scene was placed in the context of the brutality of war and the regulator noted that the focus was on “the other soldiers’ impatience to return to Rome”. When Atia sends her son to battle a bull is sacrificed above her head, covering her in blood. Ofcom approved the scene, which was “presented in the context of a religious ritual.” The BBC was praised for warning viewers to expect “strong language, sex, violence and scenes of ritual animal slaughter” before the programme.
Twenty-five viewers complained out of an audience of six million. Officials at RAI, the Italian state television company, will censor scenes from the first episode before it is shown there next year. Ray Stevenson, who plays Titus Pullo, the warrior-soldier responsible for the rape, said: “The Romans had a real degree of tolerance about sex and nudity, a true sense of liberalism. People would be having sex and their slave would be standing in the corner.”
The co-production with HBO picked up two Golden Globe nominations. Filmed near Rome, the series has been praised for showing the ancient city as a squalid metropolis.
Bruno Heller, the writer, said: “The great thing about the Romans is that they were a people with the fetters taken completely off. You were allowed to murder your neighbour or covet his wife. Whether or not an action is wrong would depend on whether people more powerful than you would approve.”