By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
A BBC television adaptation of Robert Graves’ books I, Claudius and Claudius the God, this miniseries is the story of how the Roman Emperor Claudius (Derek Jacobi), rose to power, despite crippling birth defects and a severe speech impediment. The film opens with Claudius in the autumn of his life, writing in his chambers. Claudius is certain that assassins are trying to murder him, and is desperate to tell the true story of his family, warts and all. From Augustus to Nero, the fruits of the Juilo-Claudian family tree are picked, and in some cases, poisoned on the vine.
Don’t eat the figs, seriously
There is a reason that I, Claudius is often considered one of the greatest miniseries of all time, and it rests almost soley on the strength of the performances. John Hurt, Brian Blessed, George Baker, Patrick Stewart and others populate the cast of character-actors who sell every scene. Brian Blessed is particularly fascinating as the aging Emperor Augustus, who he portrays as a man wearied by politics in his old age, and loving (if naive) as a family man. Augustus is ultimately controlled by his wife Livia (Sian Phillips), who secretly plans to kill, well… just about everyone, to install her perverted son as Emperor, and to be declared a god.
Super-villainy; AD 25
John Hurt’s Caligula is also notable as the best dramatic depiction of the infamous Emperor that television can depict without requiring a pay-per-view subscription. Instead of focusing on the bizarre sexual appetites of Caligula, John Hurt concentrates his time on the character’s personality.
The phrase “Crazy as a shithouse rat” comes to mind…
The only issue that keeps I, Claudius from receiving my highest marks is that the tight budget is often revealed in the set design. The sets and static camerawork is very spartan, and makes the miniseries often feel less like watching a film, and more like watching a filmed play. Thankfully the characters are well written and the performances uniformly strong, and the story is engrossing enough that this is forgivable.
A true showpiece of classical dramatic acting.
Bonus Drinking Game
Drink a Shot: for every betrayal.
Take a Drink: when Tiberius or (especially) Caligula does something crazy
Keep up With: the Wine Drinking, see how long you last