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TNT Turns in a Hale 'Caesar'

It may not be Shakespeare, but Turner Network Television's ambitious two-part original miniseries Caesar is well worth watching.

The movie is a well-crafted look at Julius Caesar's rise to power, replete with great sets and photography and an all-star cast, including Six Feet Under's Jeremy Sisto, Sex and the City's Chris Noth, Christopher Walken, and the late screen legend Richard Harris.

While Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar uses the Roman leader's death as its focal point — concentrating on the conspiracy that led up to the event, the avenging of his death and Brutus as its central figure — TNT's film draws more from Plutarch and other historical sources to trace Caesar's life and ambitions. But with its abundance of intrigue, conspiracy and intricacy, Caesar definitely has the Bard's overtones.

The movie follows Caesar (Sisto) from his imprisonment by the harsh dictator Sulla (played to villainous perfection by Harris) and his flight from Rome to his eventual rise. Caesar befriends Sulla's successor Pompey (Noth), who saves him from the dictator. But despite their mutual admiration, the two become rivals.

Sisto and Noth do an excellent job imbuing the interplay between Caesar and Pompey with esteem and political tact.

The two men are linked not only by their love for Rome, but Pompey's marriage to Caesar's daughter, Julia. As Caesar's popularity grows with his battlefield conquests of the Gauls, Pompey feels his position in the Roman Senate threatened. With Cato (Walken), he turns the Senate against Caesar, but Pompey is out of the picture before the formulation of the assassination conspiracy.

If there is a weakness with the miniseries, it's the incomplete depiction of the relationship between Caesar and Brutus. Ian Duncan, most famous for his role as John in the 1999 miniseries Jesus, gives a spirited performance as the scholar-turned-traitor. Yet, there are far too few scenes setting up their friendship, which takes some of the sting out of the ultimate betrayal.

Part one of Caesar
premieres on TNT June 29, at 8 p.m., with the second half following the next night at that time.