Caesar has been assassinated. As the Roman Empire struggles to regain itself, a young Emperor stepsforward, prepared to claim the abandoned throne. He is Augustus, appointed to theRoman Consul at only 19 years of age and determined to leave the mark of his rule for centuries to come.
Augustus is equal parts history lesson and soap opera, and thoroughly engaging at all levels. Peter O'Toole plays Octavius/Augustus, heir to his doomed uncle Julius Caesar's command of the far-flung Roman empire. Surviving an assassination attempt and struck by news of the death of his old friend and ally, Agrippa (Ken Duken), in the same day, Octavius waxes nostalgic about his youthful exploits in Caesar's army (Benjamin Sadler plays the young Augustus in flashbacks) and his unprepared immersion in the deadly politics of the Mark Antony (Massimo Ghini) era. More immediate are Octavius' problems trying to stave off conspiracies by his wife Livia (Charlotte Rampling) to set up the emperor's stepson, Tiberius (Michele Bevilacqua), as heir, and talk his dutiful daughter Julia (Vittoria Belvedere) into a marriage she doesn't want. Roger Young (Jesus) directs this highly watchable costume drama, and O'Toole's golden presence makes the ancient intrigues tragically human. --Tom Keogh
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Despite being nearly 3 hours in length, I found myself drawn into the story. The acting is quite good and some of the Italian actors were very good. One of the standouts was Massimo Ghini. His impressive portrayal of Mark Antony captures perfectly the soldierly toughness, the intelligence, the devotion to Roman duty, and the ultimate foolishness of what the real Mark Antony must have been like.
The North African locations really add to the visual impact.
The exterior depictions of Rome are not as elaborate as in some other movies. But they are adequate. As an Italian tv production they obviously didn't have the budget for blockbuster movie CGI f/x. However this is more than made up for by the elaborate and careful detail that is evident in the smaller scenes. I watched this on a 12 foot home theater screen, and if at all possible you should see it on as big a screen as you can manage. It is obvious the production went through a great deal of care to accurately reproduce the everyday objects that Romans used. For example, in Augustus's study, if you look in the background the various scrolls in his library have little tags hanging frm the scrolls. This is exactly how the Romans labled their scrolls, because the early empire didn't have the side bound books we have today. Look closely at the background of many of the scenes filmed in Augustus's palace. The details of the frescoes and Roman architecture are elaborate!
The scenes with Mark Anthony and Cleopatra were especially engaging.
The music for the movie is exquisite and surprisingly moving. The end title theme is great!
I would recommend this film for anyone who is interested in the people and history of this time. Sure--some of the history is abridged, but the movie covers nearly 50 years in the life of one of history's greatest rulers. Some things had to be left out.
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.