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Rule ‘Britannia’: HBO, Other International Buyers Snap Up New Sky Drama (EXCLUSIVE)

Vertigo’s first series marks a switch in focus from film to TV

Sky has secured a raft of global buyers – including HBO and Starz – for its new original series “Britannia,” a “Game of Thrones”-like drama set in Britain under Roman rule 2,000 years ago.

The show was co-produced with Amazon, which will launch it Friday in the U.S. HBO has acquired it for several of its European services, including in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, and Spain, while Starz has it for the Middle East. The iFlix streaming service bought rights for Africa, and pay-TV platform Foxtel has it for Australia. Sony has home entertainment rights across multiple territories.

In all, distributor Sky Vision has sealed deals for the show in 124 territories.

The series is set in AD 43 and follows the Roman army in Britain as it seeks to crush both local tribes led by warrior women and druids who are seeking to channel forces from the underworld. The nine-part drama is the first TV work by celebrated playwright and “Spectre” scribe Jez Butterworth, and follows the battle between the druids, Celts, and Romans for Britannia.

For Vertigo Films, which made “Britannia” with Neal Street, the series is its entry into TV. As an independent film producer, Vertigo made such features as “Bronson,” “The Football Factory,” and “Monsters.” The company is now focusing on TV after an epiphany at the AFM five years ago, principals Allan Niblo and James Richardson told Variety.

“It felt like there had been a sea change in independent film, so we made the decision back then for me to set us up in TV and Al to finish the films we were doing and move over,” Richardson said.

“A lot of broadcasters had said to us, ‘Why don’t you do TV,’ but we were too busy making films and the kind of content we were doing wasn’t right for them at that time,” Niblo added. “But obviously that has radically changed. What excites us is bold and cinematic content, and that’s what the market wants at the moment.”

Richardson credits Sky drama chief Anne Mensah with understanding his and Niblo’s vision. Vertigo’s sophomore series, Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters buddy cop drama “Bulletproof,” is currently in production for Sky. “Monsters” is currently being developed for TV at Channel 4.

“It’s important for us now to keep that sense of what Vertigo was with the films we used to do, and make sure we keep our identity as making things that are slightly off-kilter,” Richardson said. “‘Britannia’ is off kilter, fun, entertaining period drama. ‘Bulletproof’ is a fresh, original, action cop show.”

Vertigo would like to bring Butterworth and the team back for a second season of “Britannia” if it gets greenlit. The launch episode came out of the gates strongly in the U.K. Sky does not give out overnights, but the debut episode was the best for a Sky drama since “Fortitude” in 2015 with about 540,000 viewers, meaning it ranked above Sky’s launches for “Riviera” and “Tin Star.”

Pan-European satcaster Sky will also show “Britannia” in its other major territories, Germany and Italy.

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