“Barbarians Rising” – Nicholas Pinnock as Hannibal

Airing over the summer on the HISTORY channel was a series titled “Barbarians Rising” – an eight-part docu-drama that chronicles the 700-year struggle to bring down one of strongest empires the world has ever known – the Roman Empire. The series, which aired on Monday nights, and is currently available on-demand, highlights the stories of legendary warriors like Hannibal, Spartacus, Boudica, Attila the Hun, as well as the Goths and Vandals, who risked everything to change the world. The four-part docu-drama provides audiences with a look at the rise and fall of the Roman Empire from the perspective of the barbarian rebel leaders and warriors who went up against them.

Included were episodes focused on Hannibal, the mighty Carthaginian warrior, who stopped at nothing to wipe out the Roman Republic, building a strong rebel alliance and conquering the Alps. I mention this in light of ongoing discussions about the lack of films that tell stories about the, broadly speaking, African experience prior to slavery. Hannibal’s story is one that would make for quite an epic big screen adaptation, and it’s a shame that it hasn’t yet happened. There certainly have been announced attempts at Hannibal films, as well as a miniseries over the years, but nothing that’s made it to the screen yet; except for this HISTORY channel docu-drama which is more about the rise and fall of the Roman empire than about Hannibal specifically, so it doesn’t count. But I think it marks the first time that an American TV or film company has dedicated this much screen time to the Carthaginian warrior (the episode is 90 minutes long).

Also worth noting is that HISTORY cast a black actor to play Hannibal in the series (although whether Hannibal was black/African is up for debate); the actor’s name is Nicholas Pinnock – a British theatre, television and film actor whose work before this HISTORY channel project, has been mostly on UK television. Above is a photo of the actor as Hannibal in the HISTORY series.

Of the Hannibal projects announced in recent years, the most notable is the big screen adaptation that Vin Diesel has long been trying to get made (although he’s been wrapped up in “Fast & Furious” movies for what feels like en eternity).

And there’s also, somewhat unexpectedly, a miniseries that Halle Berry was to executive produce with, coincidentally, the HISTORY channel, co-produced by A+E Studios and Red Arrow Entertainment. This was announced 3 years ago. A writer, Jeffrey Caine (“The Constant Gardener,” “Goldeneye”) was said to be penning the script. No word on what happened to the project, and whether it’s even still alive.

The Halle Berry-exec produced miniseries was to tell the story of the greatest generals in antiquity – Hannibal Barca and his arch-rival Scipio Africanus (also known as Scipio the African, a Roman general) – who went head-to-head in the Second Punic War. The miniseries was to begin in Carthage, 264 BC, at the beginning of Hannibal’s life in North Africa, and was to take viewers through the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome. In what became legend, Hannibal and his arch-rival Scipio Africanus took a sacred vow to destroy the other, and the nation each served. However, despite their fiercely opposed allegiances, the two eventually came to grow to respect each other as brothers.

“Barbarians Rising” – Nicholas Pinnock as Hannibal

“Hannibal was not only the greatest African general to ever live, he may have been the greatest general, period,” said Halle Berry at the time the project was announced in 2013. “His story is an intricate and captivating ride and I’m thrilled to get this project off the ground with our partners at History.”

Certainly sounded very promising, but, again, no word on where this stands today.

Berry’s miniseries had no connection to the Vin Diesel Hannibal feature film trilogy (yes, he said he planned to make a franchise out of the story). Diesel’s project is one that was first announced at least 6 years ago. Last we wrote about it was also in 2013, when Diesel promised that his plans were definitely not dead, and still very much in motion. He added that he was just taking his time with it, so that he can get it right.

And I certainly can’t be critical of that! I think we all want a great Hannibal film franchise.

In 2012, Diesel shared, with excitement on his Facebook fan page, that he’d found a studio interested in the project on the Carthaginian general who led an army, complete with war elephants, across the Alps, to battle Rome in the Second Punic war (his father Hamilcar Barca was the leading Carthaginian commander during the First Punic War). Denzel Washington, at one time, before Diesel, was also interested in the role. But it’s apparently Diesel’s now, as Denzel is too old for it. But Diesel isn’t getting any younger either.

Vin also once shared that he’d met with late director Tony Scott, who was apparently interested in helming the trilogy, with Scott adding that he would get Denzel Washington to play Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father. As we know, Tony Scott passed away in 2012. No word on what other directors Diesel might be talking to for the job now. Although he also revealed that he’d sought Steven Spielberg’s creative counsel.

But if (or maybe I should say when) this trilogy happens, it’ll be a big deal. And if Diesel is able to bring Denzel on-board to play his father, and load up the cast with other notables, as well as a top director, it’ll definitely be a project that’ll demand attention, so stay tuned.

It’s still listed on Diesel’s IMDBPro page as a project in development. And he’s called it a “dream project” of his, so given how popular he is today, this might be as good a time as any for him to get the financing for it.

Also, HISTORY channels’ “Barbarians Rising” summer 2016 series could help spark some renewed interest in a feature film on the warrior’s life.

“It’s about waiting until you get it all on the table and everything is right,” said Diesel 3 years ago, who also shared that he identified with the impulse that drove Mel Gibson to direct “Braveheart” himself. “I don’t have to make a movie. I do it out of love.”

So if you’ve been wondering, as we have, why his Hannibal trilogy, has yet to materialize, and if it ever will, there’s your answer. In short, it’s not dead.

Hollywood loves its “Swords and Sandals” epics; so instead of throwing money into stink-bomb movies like “Gods of Egypt” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings” (with all-white casts), why not a Hannibal film or miniseries – preferably on premium cable TV networks like HBO or Showtime. Or Netflix.

In the meantime, you can watch HISTORY’s Hannibal episodes of “Barbarians Rising” today on- demand, with Nicholas Pinnock playing the warrior in the docu-drama.

Here’s a clip from last the episode: