The second title under the Big Finish Originals banner, ‘Cicero’, is now available. After the rave reviews of last month’s ‘ATA Girl’, ‘Cicero’ has a tough act to follow. The only commonalities worth mentioning are that they are both based on true events and are exceptionally well told stories.
Part I of ‘Cicero’ was first released last year. At the time it wasn’t part of the Big Finish Originals, it was simply a test. This makes it unique to the other ‘Originals’ as it comes with a bit of history and a good indication that it works. Generously, Big Finish have included that story as the first episode in this set of six.
It’s worth mentioning that Part I has been nominated for Best Audio Drama at the 2018 Audie Awards. With naturalistic sound, beautiful music and excellent performances held up by a solid script, its deserving of its nomination.
Having reviewed part I last year, one concern was that they may change the tone. With Rob Harvey taking over sound, perhaps that would be an occasion to boost up effects and make things somehow bigger. Happily, director Scott Handcock has maintained the same atmosphere and tone and Harvey’s wonderful sound design compliments the set accordingly.
If you’re a fan of history, especially Roman, than this will be an easy choice. Go buy it now. If you’re on the fence or not so sure, then by all means please read on to find out if this set is for you. To avoid spoilers the review will not focus individual episodes, but the set as a whole.
Taking place a number of months after part I, the Cicero brothers, Marcus and Quintus are considering which case to accept. Marcus has become a recognised lawyer and his reputation brings him a wide variety of legal requests. Looking for something substantial, Quintus is looking at cases that pay. However, when they meet Vitellia it’s a simple choice for Marcus. He accepts the case.
This story evolves nicely from a simple case into something much larger. The first two stories are primarily cases. We learn of Cicero through his work but as the story progresses it becomes more about him. Episode II deals with a woman’s place in Rome and touches upon the value of human life. These themes and ideas continue to be explored but instead of remaining isolated cases, we’re granted glimpses of this through Cicero’s own life.
Marcus Tullius Cicero is not a hero in these stories. He has heroic moments but they’re also countered with moments of weakness and cowardice. None of which are displayed to be more than decisions, and circumstances, of a characters life. David Llewellyn delivers a human character who is flawed despite ambitions and virtue. He’s a man of his time even if he views himself better. The history of the real man, complimented with the character created for the audio drama, is complicated. It’s an excellent look at the past to reflect ourselves in the 21st century. We have a man who believes in the law and goodness but some of those laws don’t take all human life into consideration. Two thousand years later we’re still dealing with the similar issues, even if at different ends of the spectrum.
Llewellyn & Handcock
David Llewellyn’s dialog is mostly modern with just enough flair to capture the climate of the past. There’s no one character who is entirely good or evil. Each character has their world view. Even if we’re not allotted the time to delve into each back story, between the actors portrayal and what’s on the page we’re able to glimpse everyone’s perspective. This is terribly important because despite being fact based these are drama’s which are reflective of our times.
Director Scott Handcock manoeuvres this mammoth set with grace. At no point did this feel like it was going to falter despite my preparation for it. From strong beginning to strong conclusion this set knows the story it wants to tell and wastes no time doing it. It builds upon itself with efficiency. Each character, destination and plot point are used to tell a layered story. Not once does it feel padded or cut for time. It is exactly what it needs to be to tell the story we’re hearing.
This series could go on to tell more tales in the life of Cicero, but if no more are produced listeners won’t feel cheated. This story gives enough evidence and depth to foreshadow the man Cicero grows to be while concluding most satisfactorily. It’s a tight set of stories that wraps itself up while also educating listeners.
Barnett & Cast
Samuel Barnett is expertly cast. There’s a lightness to his voice that gives him a naivety but when push comes to shove he’s more than capable of holding his own. George Naylor as Quintus plays wonderfully off Barnett, as his brother. A character so cocky and arrogant who over the course of the set becomes all too real. A proper 21st century man.
The entire cast is all supremely talented and present their characters as three-dimensional people. Not wanting to reveal too much of their roles, Paul Clayton, as Sulla, with his voice so rich and deep, is a terrifying threat. Laura Riseborough, as Terentia, is the unsung hero. So perfectly balanced she’s an exceptionally realised character. Real, even in today’s society. Riseborough takes a character with so much potential and delivers her to listeners with heart and humility.
Female roles are limited, as this is set when the world is very much “a man’s world”. However, there are women present and they’re often the warmest and most hopeful parts. Iris, played Samantha Béart is subjected to some of the worst situations but her strength and ability to adapt is a testament to the perseverance of female slaves. Béart is gripping in this role. A stand out performance amongst an exceptional and wonderfully performed cast.
I would have been delighted if ‘Cicero’ had become an ancient ‘Sherlock Holmes’. Instead of solving mysteries, cases were researched and defended. It would be a terrific way to learn about Roman history without being dull. Instead, they gave us pieces of that and delivered more than anticipated We learn about Cicero. Not just his work but the man, and the times he lived in, and wanted to improve.
Despite being a collection episodes, this really is one story. It flows effortlessly from one chapter to the next, genuinely adding upon the story. Characters and events are built upon. They add to the texture and richness of our lead characters and world. While this is based on true events, not everything would have occurred as portrayed.
This is not a stuffy, boring, history lesson. You don’t need to be a history buff, or even know who Cicero was to enjoy this to its fullest. This is simply some of the finest story telling you’ll come across, in any medium. The music and sound design are used perfectly here. It’s not extravagant, it’s excellent. Performances across the board, are layered and grounded from a script which is passionate, fast paced and thoughtful. The direction couldn’t have been handled better making this another Big Finish Original masterpiece.
This is clearly a labour of love which is well researched, thought out and executed. It surpassed my high expectations and while more ‘Cicero’ would be welcomed, this set satiate’s exquisitely.
Visit it the Big Finish Website to purchase your copy. If you’re somehow still not convinced, check out the first episode.
1st episode NOMINATED for Best Audio Drama in the 2018 Audie Awards
A six episode series, available here as a stand-alone release or as part of the Big Finish Originals bundle
Rome, 80BC. An age of bloody civil war and dictatorship is at an end.
In its turbulent aftermath, an ambitious young lawyer, Marcus Tullius Cicero, is beginning to make a name for himself. But does he have what it takes, and can this new era of peace and prosperity truly last?
When he defends the accused in a prominent murder trial, Cicero’s path crosses with that of Sulla, the former dictator and a war hero of the Republic. Soon, Cicero will discover that beneath Rome’s civilised and sophisticated veneer lies corruption, cruelty and vice. Taking on the Roman underworld may come at a considerable cost, and so Cicero must find a way to balance family and friendship with his unwavering commitment to justice.
The Roman world is on the brink of revolution. The age of Caesar is drawing near. And Cicero will have to do everything he can to survive the storm.
This release includes a 50-min behind-the-scenes feature.
(Please note that the opening episode was previously available from Big Finish here)
Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Samuel Barnett (Marcus Tullius Cicero), George Naylor (Quintus Tullius Cicero), Simon Ludders (Sextus Roscius), Elizabeth Morton (Caecilia Metella), Stephen Critchlow (Etrucius), Youssef Kerkour (Titus Capito), Ben Arogundade (Claudius), Deirdre Mullins (Vitellia), Hussina Raja (Licinia), Paul Clayton (Sulla), Laura Riseborough (Terentia), Richard Earl (Marcus Snr), Sarah Douglas (Helvia), Katherine Pearce (Fabia), Oliver Mason (Drusus), Samantha Béart (Lucretia), Stevie Raine (Magistrate), Wilf Scolding (Piso), Rupert Young (Atticus), Sarah Ovens (Pomponia), Jon Culshaw (Terentius), Rick Yale (Mugger). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer and Script Editor: Scott Handcock
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs