PARIS — Paris-based financier/co-producer Backup Films (“Still Alice”) is getting ready to launch its first English-language series, “Britannia,” a historical epic exec produced by “Game of Thrones” and “Centurion” director Neil Marshall.
The show, which chronicles Rome’s invasion of Britannia in the 1st century AD, is created by Martha Little who will exec produce along with Elizabeth Stanley and Thomas Bliss (“Children of Men”). Marshall, who earned an Emmy nom for directing “Game of Thrones’s” episode “The Watchers on the Wall,” will write the pilot episode on top of exec producing.
“Britannia” takes place in 43 AD when the Roman Emperor Claudius, who ruled over the expansionist Roman Empire, ordered the invasion of Britannia, an egalitarian land where women and men were on an equal footing.
The series, conceived to be edgy enough for pay TV, will center around three main characters: The tribal King, Prasutagus, his wife, Queen Boudicea, and Roman consul Cassius.
The eight-episode series, which is now fully developed, will depict how Cassius’ loyalty to the Roman Empire was put to test by his growing passion for Queen Boudicea, who transformed into a fearless warrior following the death of her husband Prasutagus and the rape of her daughters. Together with Cassius, Boudicea led an insurrection that brought the Empire to its knees.
“The story of Rome’s invasion of Britannia in the 1st century AD and the Britons’ valiant struggle to maintain their independence has tremendous resonance for me,” Marshall said, mentioning that the project will give him the chance to expand on themes that he first explored in “Centurion.”
Jean-Baptiste Babin, who co-founded Backup Films with Joel Thibout and David Atlan-Jackson, describes the series as a “fiery historical epic and devastatingly beautiful story of love, loss, rebellion and redemption.”
Backup Films is overseeing the financing of the show and has already initiated talks with European partners in the run-up to MipTV. Babin, who be at the market in Cannes next week, pointed out that the series lends itself well to an organic co-production with U.K., Italian and French partners.
“‘Britannia’ will shed light on two major cultural shifts that have forged today’s diverse European identity,” said Babin, adding that the series will delve into the clash of civilizations that remains at the core our “Big Bang of European culture” and still resonates with contemporary issues.
“Britannia” kicks off a new chapter for Backup Media, which has become one of France’s top film financiers and co-producers. The company started out with French movies and expanding its reach to world cinema as well as U.K. and U.S. pics with high-profile cast members such as Oscar-winning “Still Alice” with Julianne Moore and upcoming thriller “Brimstone” with Robert Pattinson. In recent years, Backup has boarded various French TV projects such as Canal Plus’ hit show “The Returned” as financier, and it’s now following the same strategy as it did with films, looking at material and talent beyond French borders and leveraging its to execs and creatives.
Getting into this brand of high-end, cinematic drama makes sense considering the wide array of commercial avenues that now benefit from it, per Thibout.
“We’ve noted in the past few years that many independent distributors are looking to come on board TV series and take all rights against a minimum guarantee as they do on movies; and they’re approaching these shows as content that can be exploited and consumed on all platforms,” said Thibout, citing the example of “The Returned” which was picked up by all-rights distrib Music Box and Sundance Channel in the U.S.
Stanley said the show will “appeal to the same viewers who have embraced series like ‘Outlander’ and ‘The Tudors’ whose tone is both contemporary and authentic.”
She added that “Britannia” also has the potential to lure “the increasingly significant female audience that is hungry for well-scripted stories about vibrant, multi-faceted women characters.”
Little, whose writing credits include “Eva and Me” and a treatment for Showtime called “The Cactus Curtain,” said Marshall’s talent for visual storytelling will “help ensure that audiences viscerally experience the frenzied action of battle, while grasping the dynamic and shifting relationships amongst the series’ many characters.”