Britannia: An Interview With The Producers…
With the Season 2 premiere of Britannia only around the corner, we sat down with Executive Producer/Creator/Writer Tom Butterworth and Co Executive Producer and Creator, James Richardson, to chat about the new season.
How did you find the process of making the second series now that the world and characters of Britannia had already been established?
TB: In some respects, it was considerably easier and more freeing, because we had something to go on. It’s very hard to just get things going. Especially something that, hopefully, has the scope that this has, and as many storylines as this does. Getting that on its feet can be quite sweaty.
Coming back to something after a bit of a break is really exciting and gave it a kind of energy and sense of play all of its own.
We literally had a simple rule, which was to ask ourselves what the things were we found most exciting and fun about the first series, which characters and which combinations, and work out how we could come across them again two years later, and have it feel like they were in a more interesting place. Or a stupider place. Or a more dangerous place. Or a darker place. That was our jumping off point.
JR: It was a lot of fun, actually, Tom, Jez and I, just disappearing in the initial period and deciding what is going to be the most fun? What did we enjoy most? What did we enjoy about the creative process, and what did the fans like most? And coming up with a rough idea of the story from that. We’re not based on a book or anything, so we’ve got this blank piece of paper we can just come up with some fun storytelling.
It was great having all these characters that we’d already spent nine episodes with their backstories fully formed and deciding what we could give them that would be really different and surprising.
Were there any characters you were particularly looking forward to revisiting?
TB: Phelan, definitely. There are the obvious ones like Cait and Divis, but Phelan in terms of being a standalone character, with a delightful, interestingly stupid performance by Julian Rhind-Tutt.
We just felt we could have acres of fun with him, someone that deluded and prone to believing anything is really fun. A spoiled princeling who has to be important in the story he’s in no matter what. No matter how much damage or disaster he causes himself or other people, he just has to keep on coming back for more. As a writer that sort of character is a gift that keeps on giving.
He does end up in these pitfalls, but he had some great lines in series one.
TB: He’s intelligent, but dumb as a brick at the same time. He’s a credulous berk. But he’s also quite high status; he values his own insights tremendously. He’s just got the wrong spirit for the job, because he just is the joker in the office. That’s his lot in life, but instead for some reason he’s a prince.
JR: One thing which was a joy was that we had all these amazing actors; we knew exactly what they were like, we knew how they played, and what their strengths and weaknesses were, and to be able to write for them without any restriction of story.
TB: That’s definitely a second series thing – we can know which actor nails this particular register and you can feed it. Nikolaj, who plays Divis, was a joy as well.
There are aspects of that characters self-importance and delusion that he can sell you in the sweetest way. It was just great to see him and Cait together again, as they became something of a double act in the first series. We just wanted to find new notes in that partnership, and find new places to go. In this series we introduce a third party into that dynamic, which allowed us to open up all sorts of new avenues.
Generally, the reception for the first series of Britannia was very positive, but some viewers had feedback that we might discuss. Firstly, are you planning on keeping the Donovan theme song?
JR: You’ll have to wait and see.
TB: We’ve not backed off.
JR: I think we wanted to lean into areas more. Some people are really going to go for it, and will get it, and some people aren’t.
We were never going to make a show that was going to be for everyone to love. But things like the theme music, we might have made some changes, we might not have done. But the question is how much of a change.
I thought it was a slightly strange thing to get hung up on. Some viewers felt it should have a more epic, instrumental introduction, but there are so many series that already have that…
TB: I think it’s exactly that. If we went down that route it would sound exactly like what everyone else had already done with historical dramas. It didn’t appeal. What was gratifying was that it’s quite powerful to get that kind of reaction.
There was feedback from the opposite reaction as well as there are people who get it and do like it, and so it should become something for those people to look forward to, rather than be something that people will just sit and watch passively.
JR: I think one thing we would say is that in season we have pushed into the music a lot more. We have made some quite big changes in the music – things we wanted to do in series one but hadn’t quite got our head around the direction we wanted to go in at that time.
I think there’s an understanding of the music in this show, which we play with. It’s playful, and I think audiences will see that. It’s very specific and clearly defined, the type of music we’ve gone for. It represents a spirit that represents the whole show.
A spirit that goes all the way back to 43AD, a spirit that people were fighting to keep. It runs all the way through our music, our fashion, culture, literature and art. It’s not the spirit of classic period drama we want to capture, it’s in many ways the antithesis of that. It’s the rebel spirit.
Did you get any grief from people who bemoaned the historical accuracy?
TB: Yeah it is interesting. Unlike the racially-invested contingent, there are people who, bless them, feel so passionately about this period. It is their lives. They might be reenactors, or they might be historical buffs but they are obsessed with this period. And fair play to them. I can see why you might get a bit narked if someone moves into your territory and didn’t get it bang on to suit your tastes.
JR: But we’re doing it with total irreverence. At no point have we ever said that we’re treating this section of historical fact with any reverence whatsoever. We’ve taken a point in time, specifically, and gone “let’s have fun with this”.
TB: We did spend a fair bit of time with historical experts, who all sang the same song: we don’t really know what happened back then. We’ve got a few things we find buried in the ground we argue about, but in terms of what the Celts beliefs systems were, and even what the Roman’s belief systems were at that point, is a mystery to them.
JR: And the stuff that was written by the Romans was all written as part of a propaganda machine. One of the most powerful propaganda machines ever. So what is the truth there? We talk about fake news, but it was big a thing back then as it is now. We weren’t interested in the truth, we were interested in a good story.
So. Season three?
TB: I hope so. The way we’ve left it there better be. You take these things one step at a time but I think the series has found its music and its rhythm. It feels like we’re just getting going.
JR: In many ways it feels like series one was very much a warm up. I think this is the first series where we’re able to start having fun. We can take audiences on a journey where they have no idea what will happen next, and they can really engage with it. Hopefully with series three we can take it to another level. Not having any books to adhere to, we have complete freedom to do whatever we want each season.
Watch BRITANNIA SEASON 2 from November 12 9:30pm AEDT or On Demand