Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Blood and glory- an empire witnessed in I, CLAUDIUS. Images: BBC.

The Ewings, Carringtons and Borgias may know a thing or two about family conflict, but they're still in the nursery compared to the court of the Roman Empire at its peak of power, debauchery and murder, as seen in the history telling of Robert Graves supreme dramatic epic: I, CLAUDIUS, adapted by Jack Pulman for the BBC, and one of the corporation's greatest dramas - a true international success that has indomitably served the test of time. It's now getting a deserved seven part re-airing on the UK's BBC 4, weekly from tonight.

A respected theatre talent, Derek Jacobi launches his TV acting career to great acclaim and audience appreciation with his incredible lead performance as the likable, clever and all-round decent Claudius-the overall storyteller/narrator of this fine and often bloody piece charting the history of the nest of vipers power players that ruled an empire across the world, and of their eventual and deservedly epic fall from grace. Claudius's only weakness was to be born with a stammer, which hampered his progress amongst his family, friends and peers, who all considered him the runt and fool of the litter when, in actuality, he was anything but. Intelligent, clever and resourceful, knowing when to keep his head down and say the right words at the right time (sometimes, even, caught in events by accident or through the vagaries of cruel fate), he learns to adapt and survive the many hurricane-like incidents that the mistress of history throws at him...

Derek Jacobi as the downtrodden Claudius.

With the kind of supporting cast that most casting directors these days would kill for, including Brian Blessed as the wise but brash Augustus, Sian Philips as his wife- the true serpent in Eden- Livia Drusilla, and John Hurt and Christopher Biggins, both of whom thoroughly scare and totally repel as the insane figures of Caligula and Nero, there's also a whole wealth of superb supporting stars adding much to the tapestry, including a curly wigged Patrick Stewart as Guard Commander Lucius Aelius Sejanus, Ian Ogilvy as Nero Claudius, Margaret Tyzack as Antonia Minor, Patricia Quinn as Livilla, and so, so many more...

John Hurt, truly terrifying as Caligula.

BAFTA winning, I, CLAUDIUS is rife with classic moments of character and incident, quiet beauty opposite brutal terror. Pulman's memorable adaptation is concise and effective, capturing Grave's work beautifully for the small screen. Shot entirely in studio, the direction by a Herbert Wise (also launched onto an even greater film/TV career from this success) is lavish and atmospheric-a storyteller who knows how to get the best out of his actors and the environment they bring to life so vividly and decadently. If you've never seen it before, you're in for a treat-one of the real gems of mid-to-late seventies British television.

Iconic title sequence: I Claudius episode 1 A Touch of Murder opening - YouTube

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