Domina tells the story of Livia Drusilla, wife and advisor to Augustus Caesar throughout his reign, charting the journey she took to reach the side of the emperor and the ways she influenced political thought in a highly patriarchal society.
It’s a show that drips with style and dramatic flair, with camerawork that plays well with the grandiose Roman architecture, doing a great job at intensifying the drama. The cast also all give solid performances that help fill in any dips in the writing. Nadia Parkes and Kasia Smutniak in particular shine in their portrayals of Drusilla at different stages in her life, with a seamless transition between the two actresses.
The writing sometimes falls flat in the earlier episodes as it lays down narrative foundations and establishes character dynamics, often butting heads with telling a directly engaging tale and in its worst moments delivering some flat characters. However, as the story finds its feet, its compelling core comes slowly but surely to the forefront, and the intricate power-plays and political struggles are exciting and hugely entertaining when given the room they need.
Also interesting is Domina’s liberal use of time skips – being a show with a necessarily limited runtime, it is not afraid to play in the temporal space and focus on the most interesting parts of Drusilla’s life, trusting its audience to fill in the gaps. This method of storytelling helps bring some life to what could otherwise have been a fairly standard period drama, and keeps viewers on their toes in a very engaging way.
If there’s any significant criticism to level at the series it’s that its writing can at times be slightly too pleased with itself: its point can be delivered with a somewhat heavy hand and a self-congratulatory tone, and the messages themselves are generally very safe takes on misogyny and slavery. The show is also perhaps a bit too eager to play with its adult themes, without really exploring them – its presentation of sex and violence at times feels insincere.
Domina rarely challenges its audience in the ways it perhaps intended to, but it’s certainly an entertaining watch and a potentially great way to fill any Game of Thrones-shaped holes in viewers’ hearts.
Domina is released on Sky on 14th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Domina here: