I, Claudius/The Epic That Never Was

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  • Roman history comes alive in this magnificent 13-part series. I, Claudius ranks among the most acclaimed productions in television history. Tracing the lives of the last of the Roman emperors, it’s an epic of ruthless ambition, shocking debauchery and murderous intrigue set in one of history’s most fascinating eras. Bearing witness to the saga is Claudius, whose stutter and limp have marke

Roman history comes alive in this magnificent 13-part series. I, Claudius ranks among the most acclaimed productions in television history. Tracing the lives of the last of the Roman emperors, it’s an epic of ruthless ambition, shocking debauchery and murderous intrigue set in one of history’s most fascinating eras. Bearing witness to the saga is Claudius, whose stutter and limp have marked him a fool–yet whom prophesies have foretold will one day rule Rome. This collect… More >>

I, Claudius/The Epic That Never Was

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  1. I have never seen this series (3 DVDs) before and took a chance at buying it due to the many 5 star comments here…for three times now, I CAN’T EVEN GET PAST THE FIRST DISC without falling asleep…the sound is muffled, no subtitles to even complement the poor audio, and the production is too stage-like…(so you will never see the huge crowds that would have made up Rome)… I think the only way you might appreciate this series, is if you have watched it a long time ago during your distant childhood…sorry, I just didn’t like it enough to even go through to the next discs.
    Rating: 1 / 5

  2. I gave this 3 stars for the hell of it. I haven’t and won’t see it. I, Claudius is a book by Robert Graves, a very good book and I’ve read it 2 or 3 times. Claudius the God is the sequel. In it Claudius is shown to have been (once emperor) as big a monster as any emperor that ruled. I only read it once (it totally spoiled my memories of the first book which I now hate), then I threw it away. Claudius reveled in blood and murder. One scene I vividly remember is his having soldiers on some kind of stage or platform kill each other and slide around and slip and fall in the blood while doing it. Lovely. Great show. Was that in the movie?
    Rating: 3 / 5

  3. The irony is that I rented this based on high recommendations from Amazon, so I feel I should say this as a warning. There are plenty of negative reviews for the DVD quality, but few of those recognize that the quality of the original series is low to begin with. My wife is a TV producer and was apalled at the low-budget look of this, especially the sound. We had it turned up over twice the volume we usually use, and it’s not the transfer. They probably used one microphone for the whole room, so if someone walks away from the camera (as they often do in soap-opera style directing) his voice will trail off. We literally gave up on the whole series 20 minutes into the first episode. Not just because of the poor quality, but also the whole look of it is very “70s BBC.” Older British television has a very distinct look, which makes it unwatchable by today’s standards. The camera angles are either one or two wide shots, and the expected close-up, revealing layers of pancake make-up and 70’s hairstyles. At no time was I convinced that I was watching a scene from ancient Rome, which was (painfully) obviously a BBC sound stage. I won’t criticize the acting, because this is a theatrical costume drama and any vapid soap-opera dialogue is par for the course. Please don’t buy into the 5-star reviews deeming this a “classic.” It may have been great in its own time, but it does not hold up to today’s standards in production or video quality in any way.
    Rating: 2 / 5

  4. I bought this as a gift for my son. I found the check out difficut to follow and had to do it two times. I was unable to have it sent directly to my son. I had it sent to me and then I mailed to my son.

    Mrs. Robert Sanders
    Rating: 5 / 5

  5. Watching the episodes one after another, about two each night for a week or so, I had high expectations for the series which has been so critically acclaimed.

    The first episode was a good, but not fabulously great, way to begin, showing off the titanic acting talents of the likes of Brian Blessed as Augustus (whom I only know as Boss Nass in The Phantom Menace and the wrestling instructor in Alexander), Sian Phillips as Livia, and John Paul as Agrippa.

    The real core focus of the series is the “court” dramas of the Imperial family, in which they are more like a monarchal dynasty than figureheads of Roman virtue and such.

    At some point by episode two, the real focus of the series starts getting muddied. After Livia kills Marcellus, the episodes start to mold together, with no real action or drama occuring save for the family bickering with one another. Tiberius this, Agrippa that, Julia etc. If it weren’t for the massive amounts of makeup placed on the actors to indicate their aging, you wouldn’t know whether it’s still episode three or episode five.

    It isn’t until Claudius enters the picture that the series begins to pick up again and get more exciting. At this point, it’s discovered that Julia has been sleeping around Rome and Augustus finds out. While I think Brian Blessed is magnificent as Augustus, I think he’s too thick, and boistrous to be the Emperor. Augustus in reality was very thin all his life, very pretty and often prone to illness due to asthma and such.

    Claudius really steals the show at this point, even as a child, with his limping and constant twitching and stuttering. It’s a bit overdone by the child actor, but as soon as Derek Jacobi comes in, he is perfect in his role.

    There’s really very little interest in Tiberius, despite his great acting and the emphasis on his reign, but the true impact of his terror isn’t as rightly felt by anyone in the series as it is in, say, “Caligula” (and Peter O’Toole is far superior to George Baker as Tiberius, not to detract anything from him as an actor). His reign of over two decades is covered in 3 or 4 episodes.

    In this period, the drama starts picking up again, with Germanicus and Drusus and Nero and Livia’s plotting against them, but really it’s not very clearly defined. Their whole conflict appears to be muddled in the midst of familial bickering and complaining, primarily at the hands of Tiberius’s complaining about Rome and everything else.

    Patrick Stewart shows up as Lucius Aelius Sejanus, and lasts two or three episodes. His role, an important one, is quite speedily done, and much focus is placed on him rather than Tiberius in Capri, so when his death comes an episode later, it’s rather sudden, and there hasn’t been enough characterization of Caligula. John Hurt just jumps into him straight into madness.

    A lot of other rather big roles are either reduced to cameos, or eliminated altogether. There is no Nerva, and Macro is not depicted as controlling Tiberius via the Praetorian Guard.

    As soon as John Hurt comes in as Caligula, he completely steals the show. His acting is stupendous, despite his presence being in only two episodes, and towards the end it starts going way too over the top. As opposed to Malcolm McDowell’s nuanced portrayal in “Caligula”, John Hurt’s Caligula is all madness, with no humanity to him. Even his relationship with Drusilla is reduced to lunatic debauchery, with the two of them pretending to be Zeus and Hera and prancing about drunkenly in the palace. John Hurt’s acting in such scenes as his return from Britannia and showing his loot from Neptune to the Senate, and his dancing sequence before Claudius and two of the senators are marvels of acting fire.

    Caligula’s death is rather hastily done, and done in such a way that there’s no real cohesion among the conspirators, and they sort of pull a “Brutus and Cassius” by panicking and running around in many different directions until they storm into Claudius’s house and declare him Emperor.

    A rather small issue I have is that the female actresses they use in the series range from average appearance to frightfully ugly. This wouldn’t be a problem, if it weren’t for the constant mention of how beautiful they are, or what stunning beauties the Julians/Claudians produce. And the same for the men as well.

    Reaching up to Claudius’s reign, Derek Jacobi seems to get lazier in his role, stuttering and twitching much less (though it probably would have been, as he ceases playing the fool), and begins to act less like the Claudius we’ve seen before, and more just mumbling and bumbling his way through lines, until the final episode where he begins losing in earnest.

    The ending is rather long and drawn out, and seeming to be quickly rushed, as it explains to the audience, rather than show or lightly detail, how it seals up the series. The actor playing Nero is also quite terrible, seeming to be content to frolic around stupidly looking fat and frilly without anything really important to say.

    All in all, the series had great potential to be grand and encompassing, but behind the great acting and set and costumes, it was highly flawed and muddled in the beginning. Not the greatest series I’ve ever seen, but not the worst.
    Rating: 3 / 5

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