Barbarians (original title: Barbaren) is a 2020 German historical war drama television series created by Andreas Heckmann, Arne Nolting and Jan Martin Scharf and starring Laurence Rupp, Jeanne Goursaud and David Schütter. The series is a fictional account of events during the Roman Empire‘s occupation of Germania, and the resulting rebellion of the Germanic tribes led by Arminius. The series was renewed for season 2 on November 10, 2020.
Barbarians fill a new void of historical dramas that can only present a promising future ahead of us. It focuses on a pivotal moment in the Roman Empire’s history. Emperor Augustus, the Imperator of Rome and victor of the vanquished Mark Antony and Cleopatra. He appointed Varus as Governor of Germania to collect taxes from the Germanic tribes. Arminius, a German-born warrior raised in Rome as a young child, then betrayed Varus by leading his legions to disaster in the summer campaign to Teutoberg Forest in 9AD by collaborating with his fellow Germanic tribes. What then occurred was the most disastrous defeat for the Roman Empire. It discouraged them from conquering further into Germania. It would take Germanicus, one of Rome’s most brilliant generals, to defeat Arminius a few years later. Yet, this series focuses on a more nuanced approach to the events here and takes many liberties with historical accuracy.
Netflix Trend: Foreign Dramas
Netflix recently has been gaining some interesting foreign dramas ranging from Spain to Korea. On the one hand, some of the best shows would be El Ministerio Del Tiempo, which is a Spanish TV show focused on a secret Government Ministry that focuses on dealing with Time Travel to prevent Spanish history from being changed. On the other, we have a Korean Medieval Drama focusing on zombies during the Joseon Period, as they name it after the Joseon dynasty that ruled Korea for five centuries. There are many other brilliant Korean historical dramas out there, but this one is interesting because it adds zombies in a medieval era. And how those people living in Korea would react to it. Now granted, Barbarians doesn’t have the visual spectacle of adding zombies into its show, but it does something which all the foreign dramas that Netflix is acquiring have done. It immerses you into a new world completely different from the English-speaking historical dramas like the Tudors or the Crown.
It is bringing back the grandeur of historical TV shows like HBO Rome. And HBO Rome was ahead of its time. It is a shame that they scrapped it in favor of Game of Thrones. Now Barbarians is a limited six episode series with a tight budget and a short timeline. It is by far the best historical TV show I have seen in a while. For years, as I saw brilliant sci-fi shows, and some good time-travel series, I yearned for a good historical TV show which could take me back to the days of the Roman Empire. And so far, Barbarians seems reminiscent of the old Italian sandals and sword films in many aspects. The coloring of this series is too grim and inspired by the grim colour of Vikings, for example. I am glad that in an era where we don’t have enough historical TV shows, Barbarians is a rare diamond in the rough. That doesn’t mean this show has flaws, it has plenty. Which we will discuss later.
Onto the positives of this show, the Romans look like actual Romans. Resplendent with proper armour, and the legionnaires don’t look fake at all. Instead, they look exactly as you’d expect them to be. They’re different from the Hollywood spectacle. They’re more realistic, like HBO’s Rome. I wanted to see more of the Romans in this series. I felt six episodes weren’t enough to carry this series by itself. The show gives you many German and Italian viewpoints instead. I have to say, the choice to use Latin for the Italian actors, and to use Modern German for the German actors, was a brilliant and innovative method rather than both sharing the usual English language. I have to say, this show is also good because there are no English-speaking legionnaires. We get an authentic attempt at immersion with the Latin that is spoken in this series. This has well-written characters and has some excellent character arcs to make you sympathize with both sides as you watch this series. No one is all good or bad. The show focuses on the real reason wars are fought: Money, Land, and Expansion.
The actors on all sides did a terrific job. Especially Laurence Rupp as Arminius. He performed a brilliant show of displaying Arminius, the man who would come to betray Rome. Jeanne Goursaud plays the bold Thusnelda, who was Arminius’s wife and played a more significant role in persuading Arminius to betray Rome. David Schütter as Folkwin Wolfspeer, is a fictional character, but he portrays the role of a noble Germanic Warrior to the highest extent that he can. The way the series puts them together is by making all three characters friends in childhood. This then becomes difficult to maintain, as it takes Arminius as a child from his tribe to be educated in Rome to maintain Pax Romana. By the time Arminius arrives back in his native homeland, you will see a contradiction emerging from beneath his convictions. And Gaetano Aronica as Governor Varus played a brilliant performance, and he could play Julius Caesar himself in a new show! There are many more brilliant acting performances and along with the cinematography and landscape, all come to make what is a good show.
Rushing the Plot
The battle scenes are well developed, but with a bigger cast and a bigger budget, the battle scenes could have been like the Battle of Winterfell. Some parts of the series were off with pacing, and at some points, you wanted to skip ahead because it wasn’t adding much to the story. I don’t want to spoil too much. I also feel that there should have been more of a dynamic between Thusnelda and Arminius. Because for a lack of spoilers I shan’t reveal, their chemistry is rushed and it doesn’t build up well with Folkwin’s arc. He needed more scenes in this series. The illustration of showing the Germanic tribes as divided was well done. Yet, I would have wanted to illustrate just how difficult it was to unite all of them against a power like Rome. It didn’t build up to that moment I was looking for, and it felt quite rushed. Six episodes wasn’t enough. The Battle of Teutoberg Forest continued for three days, whereas in a historical tv show or a video game-like Rome II, it is shortened for obvious reasons.
For the next season, which has been confirmed, they should have Germanicus be like a brother to Arminius. And Germanicus’ attacks against Arminius (historically, what happened) should become more and more personal. Arminius may have rebelled against Rome and pulled off a hard task. It’s difficult to resist such a mighty empire. Empires will react, and they will send their very finest to finish off the rebels. Spartacus is a good example. I am glad we are finally getting historical TV shows which focus more on the historical events, less on the sex scenes, and more on the significance of what happened. Because it took a lot of courage for Arminius to turn against Rome, and the actor portraying him did an excellent job of showing this. I wonder how season 2 will pan out.
All in all, it’s a fantastic TV show. I give it a 10/10 for coming and giving us fans something historical to watch! I want to see way more, and Netflix, please keep making shows like this. For years we’ve had a lack of historical movies from the 2000s and Barbarians could be the direct result. A story that can be expanded into a tv series, is more beneficial than making it into a two-three-hour movie. I think Television is the future for historical TV shows, but who knows? I am excited to find out!