Review: I, Claudius

A couple weeks back I reviewed HBO’s Rome. Now it’s time to go back to the past-and yet ROME’s future-with I, Claudius, the 1970s British series.

The series features Derek Jacobi as the titular Claudius, who is one of the last emperors of the Julio-Claudean dynasty of Emperors (That started with Julius Caeser).  Although controversial at the time for his multiple disabilities such as a stutter and limp, he was able to somewhat restore the Empire to some sanity after the tyrannical rule of Tiberius and Caligula. A historian of sorts, Claudius writes a history (To be “uncovered” in 1900 years) of his troubled family that starts with Augustus (Brian Blessed) and his scheming wife, Livia (Sian Phillips), who covertly murders, betrays, or frames all of Augustus’s potential heirs until only her reluctant son Tiberius is left. It’s around this time Claudius (Derek Jacobi) enters his own story, and we see him be somewhat slow-witted but crafty enough to ‘play the fool’ as the Empire goes nuts around him. Particuarly nuts is his nephew Caligula(John Hurt), who thinks he is a god, makes his horse a senator, turns the palace into a brothel and cross-dresses. And that’s not listing half of what he does in this series.

Nevertheless Claudius survives and becomes emperor, but eventually and slowly is betrayed and manipulated by those closest to him. His only real friend is Jewish king Herod Agrippa (Grandson of that King Herod), but even that becomes strained somewhat.

Although it might sound similar at first, “I, Claudius” is a very different beast than HBO’s Rome. Production values are one thing. I, Claudius was made 25 years earlier and on the scale of pretty much any BBC drama. It’s shot entirely on set and on videotape, giving it a sort of theatrical feel instead of a ‘real’ look. While Rome is full of action, there’s almost none at all in I, Claudius-it’s drama through and through, although with it’s ocassional light moments. It is fairly frank in it’s sexuality and nudity, although not to the extent that Rome is.

However despite this, I, Claudius is a very interesting series and worth a look for any fans of history or of Rome.


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