[Very important note: all of the reviews will be based on the English language publications researched and painstakingly translated by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge.]
Synopsis. Wotcher. The great chieftan Cassivelaunus, Britain’s hope for victory against the Roman conquerors has been defeated, and the Romanorum control the south of the British isle. Is all hope lost as it had been in Gaul when the natives succumbed to the son of Aeneas and Venus? No, not quite. Like the Gaulish nation, Britain too has a single village that holds out against the invaders. But, in spite of their valiant efforts, the Romans are stepping up their pressure on this little village (no victory is complete until everyone is conquered, so saith Gaius Julius Caesar). Fortunately, one of the village’s warriors, Anticlimax, has a cousin whose own village has a druid that manufactures magic potion. His chief tasks him with retrieving a portion of potion to provide possible providential positioning against progressive pummeling at the point of the Roman pilum. Anticlimax ventures forth and with the blessing of our favorite village’s own chief, returns to Britannia with Getafix and his bodyguards, Asterix and Obelix, and a barrel of magic potion. Given that the Romans have re-routed many of their forces to wage the campaign against the Britons, Obelix is beside himself with joy at the prospect of new enemies to fight.
The adventurers land on British soil and immediately begin learning about the local customs: bad cuisine (warm beer and boiled boar, for instance), stiff upper lips that belie a fierce pride underneath, the politeness of homeowners in row house communities, and the ubiquitous practice of stopping mid-day for a refreshing drink of hot water. Eventually, the little group of couriers ends up at a rugby game where Asterix and Obelix experience the throwing off of gentile British mannerisms in favor of avid support for the countrymen’s respective teams. The keepers of the magic potion manage to get away from the Romans who have found them again, but tragedy soon ensues leaving our warriors desperately out of time to assist the clansmen of Anticlimax. However, in an ingenious twist, the Gauls in fact do come to the rescue of the villagers and in the process unwittingly alter the course of British custom.
Funny Names. Centurion Tullius Stratocumulus (dark clouds are a-brewing for this worrisome officer as he returns to face the Gauls), Roman Governor Encyclopaedius Britannicus, Dipsomaniax the barkeep, Hiphiphurrax the Camulodunum rugby player.
Details of Particular Interest. A group of bards makes a cameo. They are clearly The Beatles who in 1966 had become international stars.
In the first English release, Goscinny wrote: “As usual, we caricature what we are fond of, and we are fond of the British, in spite of their strange way of putting Nelson on top of their columns instead of Napoleon. However, when it comes to presenting this skit on the British to the British, we feel we owe them a word or two of explanation. Our little cartoon stories do not make fun of the real thing, but the ideas of the real thing that people get into their heads, i.e., clichés. We Gauls imagine the British talking in a very refined way, drinking tea at five o’clock and warm beer at the peculiar hours of opening time. The British eat their food boiled, with mint sauce; they are brave, phlegmatic, and always keep a stiff upper lip. Suppose we were British, caricaturing the Gauls, we would say they all wore berets, ate frogs and snails and drank red wine for breakfast. We might add that they all have hopelessly relaxed upper lips, and that phlegm is not their outstanding characteristic. And most of all, we should hope that the Gauls would have as good a sense of humour as the British.”
This book is another success for Goscinny and Uderzo. The pièce de résistance is the caricatures of the British. The authors went to great lengths to include so many. We also loved the rugby sequence and Anticlimax’s explanation of the game’s simplicity: “…you can do almost anything to carry the bladder over the other team’s goal line. Anything’s allowed except using weapons without previous agreement.”