66 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2004
A wonderful and expansive recounting of the life and times of Rome's first emperor, Augustus Caesar. A conversation between Augustus and his daughter Julia provides the narration that covers the early years of his life through to his death.
The story begins with us finding Augustus, after many years on the throne, walking among the enthusiastic crowd in the Roman Forum. Their reaction seems authentically happy to be close to a popular leader who is now in the latter years of a long and successful career. From here we travel back with Augustus to Spain, Egypt, Greece, and of course Rome and spend time with Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Marcus Agrippa, and his wife Livia. All these characters are given depth and you truly get a view into why they may have done the things they did.
The settings are generally good and the reproduction of the Forum, while not perfect, is among the best I've seen.
My only significant criticism is the unevenness of how some of the dialog is presented. It seems that many of the actors were not speaking English and their voices overdubbed in English. This sometimes breaks the flow of the dialog and makes it appear unnatural. Hence I believe it rates a 4 star rating rather than 5. Other than that, the acting is very good, especially that of Peter O'Tool who delivers a very convincing elder Augustus. Some critics have cited flaws in the history it portrays, especially around the character of Julia. True or not, this in no significant way takes away from the production.
It's tempting to compare this to the BBC's landmark production of "I Claudius" or the Hollywood production of "Cleopatra". Overall "I Claudius" is a better production but is sometimes too myopic; one gets the feeling from "I Claudius" that the emperors never ventured outside a few rooms in their palace. Compared to "Cleopatra", this production provides less Hollywood-type settings and more depth to the characters.
A must see for any enthusiast of Roman History or anyone who has a child who does not always follow your wishes.
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2005
I discovered Augustus purely by change but I am glad that I did because this Italian television production is very good. I was thinking that Augustus would be something of a soap opera like HBO's Rome but it is an intelligent and well-written telling of Augustus' life. There are instances where events have been changed and people are left out of the story but to be able to fit the main events of Augusts' life into a 3 hour program is a remarkable achievement.
The story opens with an assassination attempt on Augustus which serves to remind us that there were plot against his life despite his image of unparalleled popularity. On the same day, he also learns that Agrippa has died (12 BCE) and this causes him to have a long conversation with his daughter Julia (whom he is forcing to marry Tiberius against both their wills) concerning his start in politics as the heir of his granduncle Julius Caesar. It was good to see the relationship of Caesar and Octavian depicted in detail although the tactics used for the battle of Mundus seemed amateurish with Caesars troop running toward the enemy rather than a disciplined march. My wife and I got caught up in the story as it unfolded from flashback to flashback. Agrippa and Maecenas are nicely cast and I particularly liked the outlandish way Maecenas was depicted with his flashy clothes and abrupt way of speaking to Octavian. The role of Anthony (Massimo Ghini) is nicely cast, looking square-jawed like the portraits of the real Anthony, and his Cleopatra is glamorous, sexy and coolly direct when it comes to politics. There are several characters missing such as three of Julia's children (her daughters Agrippina and Julia and Agrippa Posthumous) and Octavia's son Marcellus and her daughters by Anthony to name just a few. However, it does not fatally flaw the program since the focus is more on what Augustus is relating about his early life. I did miss a few characters, such as Drusus, Tiberius' brother, but I take that as a compromise for the three hour time limitation whereas I, Claudius spent 14 hours to tell its story.
It is needless to say that Peter O'Toole is perfectly cast as the aged Augustus and Charlotte Rampling makes a very cool and intelligent Livia. The younger Augustus (played by Benjamin Sadler) is very well played and truly shines in the role while Julia (Victoria Belvedere) is beautifully played and compared to past Julia's (particularly from I, Claudius) she has the passion and emotional range that the daughter of Augustus needs. The set designs are wonderful with the house of Augustus represented as an elegant and comfortable home but not a massive palace which squares with the house we know today. Some of the costumes are lacking in imagination and Caesar's soldiers lacked the typical segmented armor that they wore for a costume made out of leather but I am sure the production was forced to limit expenses. The Roman Forum is an impressive set. I don't think that I, Claudius was a better production; many of the sets in that series were reused and sometimes their decoration (especially when a bust of second century emperor Antoninus Pius appears in Augustus' house) lacked variety.
In short, an engaging telling of Augustus' life that makes him and his family into believable people rather than a stereotype. This is a thought provoking mini-series that with Peter O'Toole's performance brings the first emperor of Rome to life.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2005
Roger Young's attempt to follow in the BBC's earlier production of 'I, Claudius' but focusing on Rome's first emperor instead of its fourth. A noble attempt cut short by significant historical distortions, a poor script, bad editing, and shallow acting by most of the cast.
The film goes in reverse chronology as the older Augustus (Peter O'Toole) reminisces on his youth (where he is played by Benjamin Sadler) when he was a supporter of Caesar. It follows his friendship with Marcus Agrippa (Ken Duken) and his later rivalry with Marcus Antonius (Massimo Ghini.) The film also covers (poorly) the exile of his daughter Julia (Vittoria Belvedere) and Livia's (Charlotte Rampling) machinations to put her son Tiberius (Michele Bevilacqua) on the throne. The film has all the feel of a badly written T.V. miniseries that tries to round off its main characters to make them appealing to the norms and values of the contemporary audience. Augustus didn't exile Julia because she loved one man, he exiled her because she was fornicating with virtually every Roman nobleman. Julia's sons were killed at different times: one died of fever and the other drowned. Augustus never recalled Julia from banishment: she died in exile. Marcus Antonius never hid his dislike for either Octavian or Agrippa as both were commoners with no noble lineage. Marcus Antonius was treated as an enemy after Caesar's death and Cicero sought to join Octavian and the tyrannicides together against him. Also, Cicero was killed after Phillippi and not before as the movie shows and he wasn't ambushed: Cicero chose not to take the ship from Italy and stoically waited for Marcus Antonius' men to come and kill him. The film is also false in that Octavian/Augustus never brought his soldiers in the Senate to pass his agendas in the style of Sulla. As for the details on the legions, the armor, weapons, and costumes were pretty faithful although the tactical reenactments were not. The clothing is a mix of historical and fantasy such as the skirts Julia and Cleopatra wore that seemed more out of a modern cabaret. The film however did make made pretty decent attempts at being faithful to the architecture, clothing, and some customs of the period even though the dialogue and scene arrangements were mostly anachrnonistic.
The acting in the film was rather second rate apart from Peter O'Toole. All of the actors seem detached from their poor script and act as if they don't want to be there. Benjamin Sadler was a reasonable choice to play a weak and sickly young Octavian. Ken Duken was actually a good choice for Marcus Agrippa as there is a strong physical resemblance between them. Massimo Ghini as Marcus Antonius was also a decent choice but certainly doesn't outshine the outstanding performance by Richard Burton in 'Cleopatra.' Vittoria Belvedere as Julia was O.K. and her feeble performance had more to do with the lousy script she had to work with. Charlotte Ramplin as Livia was a good choice as her acting and appearance always seems cold and removed but it certainly doesn't match Sian Phillips' performance in "I Claudius." Michele Bevilacqua as Tiberius played a decent role as the frustrated son of Livia but his role is a limited one in this film.
This was a decent film but hardly compares to the direction or acting in the BBC's 'I Claudius.' This may be a good film to rent but its quality and shallowness leaves much to be desired in terms of buying it. This is essentially Rome Light in terms of films a little above 'Caesar: His Time Has Come' with Jeremy Sisto and is a decent film for those who aren't too demanding in terms of historical faithfulness. If you liked the previous film, you will probably like this one too.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2008
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
I'm always suspicious of one-star reviews. It sounds like somebody has an axe to grind. I read some negative reviews about this movie but I bought it anyway. (Used, fortunately, at a low price.) Well. A one-star movie this definitely is. It has "made-for-TV" and "low-budget" written all over it. The sets vary in quality from pretty good to really bad (a Roman camp looks kind of like a corrugated pole barn without a roof). The acting is wooden, to put it mildly. But the really bad part is the script. It's about ninety percent speeches. By that I mean that everything everyone says is a stock cliche, like "The greatness of Rome is more important than the greatness of our family!" At no point does anyone say anything unexpected or funny or interesting or striking. Cliched speech after cliched speech.
Another really unpleasant thing about this movie is the painfully obvious way that all of the sound was re-done after the filming. It always seems like you're watching a movie whose images are disconnected from the sound. And the sound effects are relentlessly bad. When troops are digging, there is a perfectly rhythmic clinking sound. When small children are playing, they simply keep saying, "Yay! Yay! Yay!" When Augustus has a cough, boy does he have a cough. It's hard to put this into words, but if you see the movie, you'll know what I mean. Plus, throughout the movie there is a symphonic score playing, vague and repetitive and not at all interesting, sounding suspiciously like the kind of symphonic soundtrack you'd hear while playing a computer game about Rome.
At least a game lets you turn the music off!
It's the awful, clunking script, along with the awful, clunking soundtrack, that really doom this movie. It's hard to say whether the actors are really as bad as they seem, or if they were in a hopeless situation.
I watched about two-thirds of this monstrosity before I finally gave up. I kept hoping there would be at least a few scenes that would relieve the tedium.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 31, 2010
I'm a big Peter O'Toole fan and a big Roman history buff, but I can't believe how bad this was. I can only assume he was in need of a payday. Yes, it was hugely inaccurate (but that's forgivable to move a story along), but the script and acting were laughably bad. I honestly can't believe some people gave this good reviews.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2007
A gratuitous and unclarifying flashback-within-a-flashback chronological scheme. Highly uneven acting, to the point where you wonder whether the director wasn't drunk during most of the shooting. Post-prod dubbing which renders the voices excruciatingly phony. Some pretty faces and some good actors with little to do (extra points to Charlotte Rampling, who comes out unscathed). Compares unfavorably to Rome - The Complete First Season and of course, sorry to bring it up, but the unsurpassed I, Claudius.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2011
Just viewed "Augustus" and was incredibly impressed. I am a World Cultures teacher who has extremely high standards for historical movies. I can tell you that in "Augustus" the producers did a great job at recreating the historical background which in my opinion makes this movie seem very realistic. The costumes and scenery were very impressive, giving you the feel that you are actually viewing a window back to Ancient Rome. I thought the movie did an amazing job of presenting the "political intrigue" of how the politicians of Ancient Rome had to maneuver to achieve their ambitions and goals, and it does not just portray this from the angle of Augustus, but from others such as Marc Antony, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Tiberius, and a cast of characters. This truly gives you the idea of the political environment in which the Roman Empire was born. The characters were portrayed very well, especially that of Julius Caesar, Marc Antony, Augustus, and Agrippa, although other characters as well were portrayed in first rate fashion. There are several Roman battle scenes, and you get the feel of what it would have been like on a battlefield as a member of the Roman Legions as they enter into combat. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys historical movies and anyone who wishes to learn more about this time period. Even students of history like myself will greatly enjoy it. In my opinion a five star movie!!
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
The transformation of Octavian, the youngest member of the Second Triumvirate, into August, the first Roman emperor, is one of the most fascinating rises to power in ancient history. But his story has only recently become of interest to those who make television mini-series, what with the ABC 2005 summer mini-series "Empire" and 2003 Italian mini-series, "Imperium: Augustus." The former is clearly influenced by the Oscar-winning film "Gladiator," with the fictional gladiator who is created to watch over and educate the young Octavius. The latter can trace its lineage back to the celebrated BBC mini-series "I, Claudius," which elevated familial backstabbing to high art.
Most of the time we have seen depictions of the young Octavian, in movies like "Cleopatra" to HBO's current mini-series "Rome," and rarely the elder Augustus. But "Augustus" is interested in both, and there is a sense in which the story here is about the birth and death of the title character, showing how Octavius (Benjamin Sadler) became the emperor, and how Augustus (Peter O'Toole) dealt with the question of who would come after him when he died. Octavius was only eighteen when his uncle, Julius Caesar, was assassinated, and it was assumed Caesar's heir was too young. So part of the reason for his success was that he was underestimated by Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, the other members of the Second Triumvirate.
The key to the character of Augustus can be found in his insistence that he never used the title "imperator," but rather "princeps" ("first citizen"). While preserving the trappings of the Roman Republic, Augustus ruled as an autocrat for more than four decades, ending a century of civil war and giving Rome the "Pax Romana" era of peace and prosperity, as well as imperial greatness. "Augustus" does reflect these ideas to the extent that Augustus is not depicted as a tyrant or despot once he is in power. But that is because it is Octavian who sells his soul, agreeing to submit names for the purge that claims Cicero (Gottfried John) and everybody else who stands in their way.
For this mini-series the parallel ends points are when Octavian becomes the ruler of Rome and when Augustus dies, but this misses the historical fact that it was what he did once he got absolute power that truly defined the man. Octavian disbanded his armies and held elections, where he was elected consul, and returned power to the Roman Senate. What we see instead, is Augustus out for a walk with the citizens of Rome applauding. Augustus famously declared that "found Rome brick and left it marble," but it is his friend, Agrippa (Ken Duken) who apparently expires to be an architect. Then there is the flamboyant Maecenas (Russell Barr), who provides pragmatic political advice and comic relief in almost equal measure.
O'Toole plays the weary Augustus at the end of his life, with the justification for the willingness for his life to end communicated by his tone more than by the events that unfold. In this version his wife, Livia, whether young (Martina Stella) or old (Charlotte Rampling), is presented as being more lucky and evil in getting her way. The big question is why Augustus is unable to do anything other than make his daughter, Julia (Vittoria Belvedere), an unwilling pawn in his failed machinations.
Where the screenplay by Eric Lerner ("Dracula's Curse") also fails is when he tries to get creative. After a century of civil war as the legions of Octavius and Antony (Massimo Ghini) approach each other the soldiers start recognizing friends and relatives on the other side, which is pretty good for people all dressed alike on opposite ends of a battle field and not exactly a novel situation given Roman history at that point. Even with the threats of the centurions, the soldiers refuse to fight and the two leaders decide to make a deal instead, which simply creates a laughable scene. Fortunately "Augustus" does better when dealing with large numbers of citizens or Senators standing around in togas.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2011
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
To have some redeeming value period films need to either be entertaining with limited artistic liberties or, if not entertaining, then at least educational. This film is neither, and it is odd that Peter O'Toole granted his presence to it. The acting - aside that of O'Toole's - is dull and the dialogue is unimaginative.
What is worse is that the history is so bad. Artistic liberties are one thing, but this film gets many basic historical points wrong. Begin with the fact that no one in the early first century would have viewed Mark Antony's (Marcus Antonius) legacy as one of defense of the republic - even among those who didn't like Augustus, they admired Brutus and Cato, not Antony. One of the most bizarre historical errors - because it so large and difficult to understand - is the presentation that the civil war was ended by Caesar's victory over a general named Sextus in Spain (it was Octavian who had to beat Sextus, and in Sicily). Actually, it ended with Caesar's victory over first Pompey Magnus in Greece (a momentous event not mentioned at all in the movie) and then over his remaining allies in North Africa, where's Cato's suicide sealed the end. Caesar did have to defeat Pompeian legions in Spain, but they were commanded by three men: Marcus Terentius Varro, Marcus Petreius and Lucius Afranius. The Spanish front was concluded before the others. Also, Octavius (the main character) was a teenager when Caeser died, not in his 20s, as shown here. He was also not a commoner, although he was from the lower classes of the aristocracy.
The extremely positive manner in which Augustus' uncle, Caius Julius Caesar, is portrayed is also hard to understand, except purely as a memory distorted in the retelling. Some elements are true - Caesar was known for his clemency and his championing of the lower classes. He was also a leader of great talent and intelligence. Yet he was also immensely corrupt, and showed no hesitation toward political violence when it suited him. These traits were not uncommon, of course, but he was hardly the champion of "government for all people" the movie portrays him to be.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
As a student of Classics I was eager to see this film. Peter O'toole has always been a favorite of mine.. This film however, is watered down and shot for the masses.. Not a lot of attention to detail is played out in this release. Besides O'toole the acting is rather mediocre. It seems they grabbed a few extras from a Renaissance festival to fill the rolls.. If you want to see a hisorical portrayal of Octavian/Augustus, rent or buy ROME - 1st and 2nd season. HBO did a fabulous job!