Sky on Monday launched high-end TV series “Domina,” which examines Roman history through a female prism, toplining Kasia Smutniak (“Perfect Strangers,” “Devils”) as Livia Drusilla, the politically astute third wife of Emperor Augustus and mother of Emperor Tiberius, who managed to exert great power at a time of crisis for the Roman Empire.
The Comcast-owned paybox is airing “Domina” in Italy and the U.K. on May 14, followed by playdates on Sky in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on June 3.
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The epic costume drama — conceived and written by Simon Burke (“Fortitude,” “Strike Back”) and lead-directed by Claire McCarthy (“Ophelia,” “The Luminaries”) — is set to bow in the U.S. on Epix June 6.
Smutniak in the lead is supported by an A-list international cast comprising Liam Cunningham who plays Livius, Livia’s father, and Isabella Rossellini playing Balbina, an early enemy.
The “Domina” cast also comprises Matthew McNulty (“Misfits”) as the future emperor Gaius, Christine Bottomley (“The End of the F***ing World”) as Scribonia, Gaius’ first wife and Liva’s archrival; Colette Tchantcho (“The Witcher”) as Antigone, Ben Batt (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) as Agrippa; Enzo Cilenti (“Free Fire”) as Tiberius Claudius Nero; and Claire Forlani as Claudia Octavia, who was Gaius’ sister.
“Domina” follows Livia’s journey and rise “from a naive girl whose world crumbles in the wake of the assassination of Julius Caesar, to becoming Rome’s most powerful and influential empress,” according to promotional materials.
Livia Drusilla’s rise to power is “driven by a deep desire to avenge her father and to grant power to his children,” the synopsis reads. “She will succeed, brilliantly, by marrying the man who had taken everything away from her, but she will soon discover that conquering power is not enough: you need to be able to hold it when everyone else craves it for [themselves].”
“We need stories like this; stories in which we depict strong women, who are also fragile,” Smutniak said during an online press conference. “But more importantly, women who have had a great impact,” she added.
To be able to portray Livia Drusilla this way within a project “that aims to recount this time period from a female point of view is totally unprecedented,” she noted. Smutniak also pointed out that this is “a project for which it’s of fundamental importance to tell the factual reality.”
Commenting on how history was reconstructed in “Domina,” McCarthy said “there is always a fine line between historical accuracy and dramatic focus, and noted that “in this show, we worked very hard to find the historical evidence and ask questions” that would “make it relevant to today’s audiences.”
As to how the show originated, Sky Italia director of original productions Niels Hartmann said they had been kicking around the idea of doing something on ancient Rome for a while. But “after ‘Gladiator’ and HBO’s ‘Rome,’ in 2005, we thought there was this opportunity to depict that period [again], but we needed an idea. We asked around, threw out some hooks to see if there were some ideas out there.”
“The idea came from Simon Burke,” Hartmann added. “He came back to us with a strong and unique idea, which is to recount the power play in an ancient Roman family, depicted from a female point of view.”
“Domina” is by Sky Studios and Fifty Fathoms, with ITV-owned Cattleya in the role of executive producers. The eight-episode series was mostly shot at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. Oscar winner Gabriella Pescucci oversaw the costumes; Luca Tranchino (“Prison Break”) serves as set designer.
Executive producers are Patrick Spence, Marcus Wilson, Faye Dorn, Simon Burke and Claire McCarthy, along with John Phillips.
International distribution of “Domina” is being handled by NBCUniversal Global Distribution.
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