35th Anniversary Edition
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"A true masterpiece" —San Francisco Chronicle "Fiendishly sophisticated" —The New York Times "Handsomely produced, grandly acted, and…thoroughly involving" —The Washington Post "Irresistible, witty" —Los Angeles Times
Rated one of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time" by Time magazine, this epic BBC series spans the history of the Roman Empire from Augustus through Claudius, a stuttering scholar who learns early to play the fool and stay alive. Based on the novels by Robert Graves, it stars Derek Jacobi (The King’s Speech, Cadfael) in a career-defining role. Siân Phillips (The Age of Innocence) is “exquisitely wicked” (Los Angeles Times) as the lethal Livia, wife to Augustus (Brian Blessed, Hamlet), while John Hurt (The Elephant Man) is "decadence personified" (USA Today) as the depraved Caligula, whose reign of terror paves the way for Claudius’s ascension.
Winner of an Emmy® and numerous other awards, this riveting tale of ambition, debauchery, and intrigue remains one of the most popular and acclaimed dramas in Masterpiece Theatre history. Patrick Stewart (X-Men), George Baker (The Ruth Rendell Mysteries), Margaret Tyzack (Cousin Bette), and James Faulkner (The Bank Job) also star.
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100s of reviews inform you of the content: An insatiable quest for power among Roman Emperor generations makes the story compelling. It's full of dastardly evolution. The Claudian Dynasty BBC spectacle filled with incest, base perversion and murder perpetrated within the royal family but presented with the historical humor of the 1930s Robert Graves novels. Augusta thru Nero, a plague of Roman Emperors, is a story supposedly told through the buried family story written by Claudius, exposing truth and sinister acts within the outlandish and intrigue filled generations. The film version includes the Graves' toga-talking slang, made a TV epic through the masterful writing of Jack Pulman. Through Roman period sexual twists (nudity, violence, and content warnings are correct throughout) viewers find humor in bizarre conduct, and jocular dialogue.
Aligning with stellar writing was casting. Derek Jacobi shines as perfect here as he did as Cadfael. Augustus (Brian Blessed) & wife, Beautiful, evil Livia by Sian Phillips (Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy), & her son Tiberius (George Baker -Ruth Rendell Mysteries). Add Claudius' mom, Antonia by Margaret Tyzack (Cousin Bette, Forsyte Saga). Caligula by John Hurt, Sejanus by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek), Nero by Christopher Biggins (Poldark), Narcissus (John Cater -Duchess of Duke Street), Ian Ogilvy (Upstairs, Downstairs) are a few more recognized. There is more.
SUBTITLED Episodes total 668 minutes, plus 104 more if you view the alternate episodes.
Episode 1: A TOUCH OF MURDER-Rome 24-9 BC (BCE). Original PBS alternates are 1: A Touch of Murder & 2: Family Affairs.
2: WAITING IN THE WINGS 3-5 AD (CE)
3: WHAT SHALL WE DO ABOUT CLAUDIUS? 9 AD
4: POISON IS QUEEN 13-14 AD
5: SOME JUSTICE 19-20 AD
6: QUEEN OF HEAVEN 23-29 AD
7: REIGN OF TERROR 30-31 AD
8: ZEUS, BY JOVE! 37-38 AD
9: HAIL WHO? 40-41 AD
10: FOOL'S LUCK 41-43 AD
11: A GOD IN COLCHESTER 47-48 AD
12 OLD KING LOG 54 AD
ALL BONUS has SDH SUBTITLES:
The booklet and 2 alternate episodes mentioned.
"I, Claudius": A Television Epic -2002, 74 min behind the scenes
"The Epic That Never Was" -1965, 71 min documentary of a failed B/W 1937 film adaptation staring Charles Laughton.
12 min Jacobi film interview from 2010
36 min Cast/Dir favorite scenes
The only fault I found was the close ups show the latex masks used for make-up technique typical of the 1970s period. But remember, quite advanced in 1976.
An epic that will never be out of style. And cut or reduced scenes are restored.
Even for previous owners, this may be worth a new purchase.
It was Emmy nominated for Outstanding Limited Series and Direction in a Drama Series for Herbert Wise; it won for Art Direction in a Drama Series. The series influenced modern filmmakers and has become a part of our own pop culture. David Chase modeled Tony Soprano's manipulative mother, Livia, after - guess who - Livia of "I, Claudius." And, like Tony, no one has a more miserable rise to power than Livia's son, Tiberius (George Baker). Ridley Scott references Claudius in "Gladiator," when Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) cruelly persuades his sister to betray Maximus (Russell Crowe).
Originally presented in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre in an edited format, this 35th Anniversary Edition from Acorn Media is a treat. The film is uncut, providing an extra 10 minutes for a 98-minute combination of episodes one and two. More scenes never broadcast in America are scattered throughout. The new material shows more violence and nudity amidst the story of four Caesars of the Julio-Claudian dynasty: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius, who was followed by Nero (We get to meet him near the end of the series). Theirs is a history of murder, madness, adultery, betrayal, incest, child rape (it was considered bad luck to murder virgins), cannibalism, infanticide and patricide - a terrible part of Roman history, and definitely not standard TV viewing in the `70s.
It's nothing like HBO's "Rome" or "Game of Thrones," but "I, Claudius" is powerful storytelling without overdoing graphic images or profanity. Suggestion is more than enough. A childhood illness leaves Claudius with a limp, partial deafness, and a palsy that makes him twitch and stammer. Ridiculed and reviled by his family, there's nothing wrong with his mind. Claudius exists as an inconvenient shadow, putting him in a position to observe the most private family secrets. History and law become his favorite subjects as he writes his hush-hush family history.
It's been years since the series has been available in a decent format for home viewing. Acorn posts a disclaimer on each disc: "Due to the age of these programs and the improved resolution that DVD provides, you may notice occasional flaws in the image and audio on this DVD presentation that we were unable to correct." The DVD picture is grainy and soft. Makeup and wigs used to age various characters look theatrical; however, complexions are lifelike, showing pores, stubble and freckles. Roman costuming and sets shine; we can see so much more than in earlier presentations. Aside from the memorable opening theme by Wilfred Josephs, the traditional TV mono soundtrack focuses on the sharp dialogue. It comes through clearly along with infrequent sound effects. The only thing I miss is Alistair Cooke's introductions and epilogues that brought in additional historical facts, making the culture become even more alive.
Aside from that, there are hours of extras to enjoy. "`I, Claudius:' A Television Epic" has interviews with series director Herbert Wise, writer Jack Pulman, Jacobi, Hurt, Phillips, Baker, and other members of the outstanding cast. Each one notes how hard it was to get started because the material was so controversial. Brian Blessed, who plays Augustus, says, "In two weeks of rehearsal we were dreadful ... We were all right, but we just couldn't do it. So they got Jack Pullman in and he said, `I know just what you're going through ... I couldn't write it until I thought of the Mafia.'"
Phillips had a hard time playing the malevolent Livia; she wanted to find incentive for the character. "I love the contrast of comedy and horror, which goes right through `Claudius,'" Wise says in the feature. "I told her, don't justify it - just BE evil!"
John Hurt, who puts Caligula through his paces in a magnificent performance, says, "When I first read it, I couldn't believe the world could be led by a lunatic of this nature - and I passed on it." Because the episodes were to be filmed in a fragmented timeline, Wise decided to have the cast party before shooting began. Hurt attended, met everyone, and feeling the "electric atmosphere," changed his mind.
Like a few other films ("Angel Heart," "The Poltergeist Trilogy," "Apocalypse Now"), there was talk that the show was cursed; you'll hear about that in the "Television Epic" feature. But, the claim gets more backing in "The Epic that Never Was," a bonus about a 1937 film adaptation that was to be directed by Alexander Korda, starring Charles Laughton, Dame Flora Robson and Merle Oberon. The 71-minute feature is slow-moving and portentous in the grand, B&W Old Hollywood Way, but there's meat to be had here.
Then there's a 12-minute interview with Derek Jacobi by American writer/producer Mark Olshaker in 2010, and a great, 36-minute "favorite scenes" discussion with Wise and the cast, best viewed after watching the episodes. An eight-page booklet by Jennifer Coggins compares "Fact and Fiction in `I, Claudius,'" along with a genealogical chart. Among other items, she points out that Graves got some of his material from Suetonius, more a notorious scandal monger than historian. "That's something like getting a history of the 20th Century from the archives of the National Enquirer," my historian friend, Thomas Edsall says.
Thank goodness Graves did use other resources.
Still, there's no disputing "I, Claudius" keeps us on the edge of our seats - for multiple viewings. HBO has just announced that they're teaming with the BBC for a re-make. But that's a story for another time.
Why it doesn't mention which regions the DVD will be suitable for when ordering is beyond me.