Saturday, November 05, 2011

Article: The Roman Mysteries: The Slave Girl from Jerusalem

The Roman Mysteries: The Slave Girl from Jerusalem
This is the last episode of the TV series based on The Roman Mysteries (sniff!). There's a lot of sniffing involved in this one, so turn away now if you don't want to be spoiled!
Seriously, big spoilers ahead, in the book review as well.
Like the book it's based on, this episode opens with Jonathan experiencing a premonition that someone close to him will die. His dream is beautifully shot and also just creepy enough without being too scary - unlike the mangled eye new character Nonius is sporting, which would have totally freaked me out as a child (I'm one of those people who freaks out at the thought of eye trauma).
This story features pretty heavy stuff from beginning to end, so a new character was introduced for the television, who has since cropped up in some spin-off stories. Floridius is a rather pathetic soothsayer who nevertheless comes in handy when our heroes need a Roman citizen at short notice and who claims that his gestures were admired by Quintilian. He provides a welcome shot of light relief amongst all the trauma and a nice visual, entertaining way to introduce oratorical gestures to the audience. His interactions with Lupus also give Lupus something to do in a story in which he could easily have got lost.
I love the cliffhanger between Parts 1 and 2, in which Nubia offers to let herself be tortured to death so that no one else will die and Hephzibah will be freed. Nubia is awesome. It's also the perfect way to illustrate the dangers of slavery to a young audience - a serious threat to one of our main characters but one which, ultimately, won't actually happen. I love Jonathan drawing his knife to protect her as well, though I doubt he'd have won that particular fight.
The childbirth scenes are PG-rated of course, though that doesn't make poor Miriam's demise any less traumatic. Jonathan's off-hand remark that Miriam's not the first to have a baby doesn't quite ring true; as a boy, perhaps he wouldn't know as much about childbirth as the girls do, but with Flavia's mother having died in childbirth and that being relatively common in the ancient world, I think even a young boy would be aware that there was a certain level of risk involved, whether or not it's twins. The rush to fetch Gaius while Miriam is in labour is very dramatic, but also feels perhaps a bit too modern - on the one hand, obviously they want to get him there before Miriam dies, but on the other hand, Miriam screaming 'Gaius why aren't you here' feels wrong - these are Romans, fathers don't attend births and you wouldn't be screaming for the father until the baby was born or until you knew you'd had it. The timing doesn't really work either - Hephzibah's trial isn't finished, so she ought to be in court.
On the other hand, kids watching wouldn't notice any of this - they would be thinking the same as Jonathan, wondering why Miriam was so tense about giving birth, and they would expect her to want the father there because that's what we do. Swapping the conclusions to the two stories also allows the series to have a happy ending, which is especially important given that this is the last ever episode. With that in mind, I think these minor inaccuracies are for the best - they may irritate me but they make the story much more comprehensible and enjoyable for its intended audience.
The writers have wrapped up the series nicely in these episodes - all our four heroes get a moment in the spotlight (though poor Jonathan's is as unhappy as ever) and Flavia and Flaccus are clearly destined for each other, even if they're not quite married yet. There wasn't room for Nubia and Aristo's romance, but that couldn't be helped. The last scene, with Marcus Geminus asking Fortuna to bring 'the children' - both the twin babies and our four heroes - good luck is lovely. Ironically, despite ending on the most tragic of the books, the end of the TV series is actually slightly more upbeat than The Man From Pomegranate Street (except for the wedding scene in the epilogue to that book, which is also lovely). I have to admit, though, that child-me would have totally missed the ending through being so upset about Miriam (I was a right wuss - Mum still remembers the fuss I made over some movie about a pit pony, where I thought the pony had died and didn't stay to the end to see that it lived…). A solid end to a great series. Maybe I should start an internet campaign for a movie…
All Roman Mysteries reviews

(via Instapaper)