Netflix has a seemingly endless supply of beautiful international historical dramas to occupy us during these difficult times, and the latest is The Barbarians, a German period piece dramatizing the famous Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, when the world’s greatest fighting force, the Roman Empire, they were embarrassingly brutalized by an alliance of Germanic tribes. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the story will have a rough idea of where it’s headed, but over the course of six highly engaging episodes, Big N’s latest offering roots the story in character drama, featuring the so-called “barbarians.” : the derogatory name given to the Germanic people by the Romans, being explicitly presented as the heroes against a cruel occupying force.
The hook is that the representative of that force that we see the most is Ari (Laurence Rupp), now known as Arminius, a barbarian by birth who was offered as a pledge to the Empire by his father, Segimer (Nicki von Tempelhoff), the Reik of his tribe. It was a tribute to peace, but the new governor of the region, Publius Quinctilius Varus (Gaetano Aronica), has decided that more offerings are required to maintain that peace, something that causes division among the various disparate tribes of the Germanic peoples. Driven to despair, Ari’s former childhood friends and lovers. .
At just six episodes, Barbarians doesn’t struggle for pacing, and while it’s packing a lot of story, it’s easy to follow without any broader contextual knowledge thanks to clear plot and characterizations. Thusnelda and Folkwin have a doomed Romeo and Juliet romance: she, the daughter of the ambitious Segestes (Bernhard Schütz), has been offered as the wife of Hadgan (Sergej Onopko), the Reik of another tribe, and an unshakable loyalty to his people who are complicated by his long friendship with Ari, who is torn between his roots and his comfortable new position as a Roman officer. This is the central triumvirate, to use an appropriate term, around which the show revolves: there is less depth and complexity to the characterization elsewhere, but figures like Varus, who for all intents and purposes is a cartoon villain, and Berulf. , a huge barbarian warrior, are utilitarian, used to inform this key dynamic.
That dynamic should suffice for most viewers, as the action promised by trailers doesn’t come for a while, and even then only in small doses. Barbarians is a lot more character-driven than early appearances suggest, and it’s a lot better written and acted than you might have thought. There is generous violence, to be sure, but the show doesn’t rely entirely on it, intelligently constructing his conflicts over time, and making sure his bloodshed is meaningful rather than easy. This is a solid, engaging, beautifully produced historical drama with its fair share of evocative imagery, and it will be a compelling binge this weekend for anyone with a passing interest in this period in history.