3 reasons to watch Domina – the Sky Atlantic drama set in Ancient Rome

Domina is a historical drama like you’ve never seen before. Actors Matthew McNulty, Ben Batt and Isabella Rossellini explain why you should add the Sky Atlantic drama to your watch list.

By Becky Gamester-Newton Published: 13 May 2021 - 8.11am
Antonello & Montesi Matthew McNulty stars in Domina

Game of Thrones fans, we think we’ve found the show for you.

Domina, the epic Sky Atlantic drama set in Ancient Rome, is not only a visual feast – its compelling subplots and characters will keep you gripped.

The stars and creator of the show spoke to BT.com and other press about why Domina is worth the hype.

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1. It’s a new take on Ancient Rome

Livia Drusilla in Domina

The biggest selling point of Domina is that it focuses on Livia Drusilla and other women at the time, rather than the men who were perceived to hold all the power.

Isabella Rossellini, who plays Balbina, said she loved being a part of this new take on the time-honoured story.

“It’s very interesting to look at history and say: ‘How did women live? When they didn’t have any rights, how did they live, how did they do it?’.

“Were they really living the life they had not wanted to live, or were they still able somehow to manipulate the system and still do what they wanted?

“I think the series Domina is inspired by that. It’s the first time I’ve seen a series on Rome that talks about women from the women, and the women are the protagonists rather than the men.”

Isabella Rossellini plays Balbina in Domina

Ben Batt, who plays Agrippa, agreed. “There are a lot of films and productions made about Rome so we are saturated with it in one respect. I do think Domina’s done something more than slightly different," he said.

“We knew nothing about Livia Drusilla which is probably exactly why it’s being made. It’s important that her story is told. We think we know an awful lot about Augustus, but Livia’s a pushed-aside, forgotten part of history which is probably the reason why it’s so important that we make it.”

He added that he felt privileged to be a part of a production where the majority of the team were women.

Ben Batt as Agrippa in Domina

“What we’re going through is a really important time. I don’t think we should underestimate it," he said.

“I think we have responsibility, particularly as men, to be a continual state of educating ourselves of learning more about things that society has got wrong and the things we need to improve on.

“Most history is skewed to the male perspective - it’s history by men, told by men. To have a look at a piece of history from a female perspective with a lot of women at the very, very top of the game - from the costume designer to the director to the producer to the execs and obviously to the actors as well - it was a very fortunate place to be.”

And Game of Thrones fans will be pleased to here that Domina is far from a dry retelling of the politics at the time, with creator Simon Burke revealing they had a simple rule for deciding what to put in the story.

“Anything violent, sexy, dangerous or wicked we put in. Anything which was dull or harder to understand we left out!” he said.

2. You don’t need to be a history buff

Gaius and Agrippa in Domina

If your eyes glazed over during every history class at school, don’t assume that Domina isn’t for you. It’s written in an informal, accessible way – far from the Shakespearean style you might expect.

Batt believes a tip from his agent to talk “like you’re down the pub with your mates” for his audition video could have been a deciding factor in his getting the role of Agrippa.

“Maybe my agent knew something I didn’t know, because I was about to send a tape. I read the script and I was like right, this is what I think of Agrippa. I remember before it went any further my agent gave me a ring and she said: ‘No, have another look at the script’.

“We had a discussion on the phone, and she was like: ‘Think more like you’re down the pub with your mates. Agrippa’s talking to his pals in the pub'.

“That really helped. It’s not often you get very good acting advice from your agent… I did exactly what she advised me to do, I went back and read the script again, and I was like, these people have grown up together, they’re pals, they make each other laugh, they make each other cry, especially Gaius and Agrippa.”

Agrippa, Livia and Gaius in Domina

Matthew McNulty, who plays Gaius, noted that many of the cast are from the Manchester area and he wonders whether that had an impact on the delivery of the script.

“There’s quite a few of us from the same part of England, from Manchester, on this. It might well have bled into the performance,” he said.

“Because a lot of us weren’t naturally RP [Received Pronunciation] and we don’t talk that way, we’re constantly conscious of not going too far. Because we’ve had to adapt our accents, we didn’t want it to sound like a caricature or a 70s TV show in Rome. Maybe that probably helped us all. We worked that little bit harder on the voice and on the delivery.”

McNulty, who also starred in The Terror, also admitted he was never a fan of history when he was younger.

“Unfortunately for me, I had a really bad history teacher which meant that my association with anything to do with history just felt dry and boring,” he admitted.

“I’m gutted about that, because through the various period dramas that I’ve done, I’ve been able to see history through the eyes of people who are enthusiastic about it.”

He added: “This particular period, I didn’t really know much about it and I especially didn’t know anything about Livia Drusilla. I just had a passing knowledge. I feel privileged to be able to now learn through the drama but also through the research as well. It’s so rich.”

3. The wonderful set

Domina on Sky Atlantic

Domina was filmed at the iconic Cinecittà Studios in Rome – the largest film studio in Europe, covering 99 acres. As a result you can expect premium production values, and Domina certainly delivers, giving viewers the sense of being in the heart of Ancient Rome.

Rossellini said the set was one of the main reasons she took the job.

“When my father [the director Roberto Rossellini] was editing film or selecting sets or selecting costumes or casting, it was in Cinecittà. So for me, it was unbelievably wonderful to be back in Cinecittà. I felt like it was home,” she mused.

“So many of the people who work in Italy, had worked with my father or were an apprentice with my father or they were children of somebody who worked with my father. Because in Italy often the job remained in the family like the old artisanal tradition. So that was an absolute pleasure. When I heard that the film was going to be shot in Rome and in Cinecittà, that’s one of the reasons I said yes.”

McNulty said he felt extra pressure to perform because of his surroundings.

“There’s pressure on it anyway because I’m playing Augustus [Gaius’s ancient title], but pressure’s a privilege and to be able to have that and to come through it in this setting and in Cinecittà in Rome, in this script with Sky, I feel very, very lucky," he said.

Domina is streaming on Sky Atlantic and NOW from Friday, May 14.


Image copyrights: Antonello & Montesi