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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 marked him a fool--yet whom prophesies have foretold will one day rule Rome.
This collector's edition set includes a unique documentary feature, The Epic That Never Was (1965, 71 min.), a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at Alexander Korda's ill-fated 1937 screen adaptation of I, Claudius. Starring Merle Oberon and Charles Laughton, the chronicle of this uncompleted masterpieces is an unforgettable coda to one of the greatest stories ever told.
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So, if you have a Sony or Panasonic BD player, purchase the DVD US region version otherwise you'll have to wait for a BD region A version.
Apparently the issue is the frame rate not the region lock. The North American frame rate (60 hz) for television is different than Europe (50hz). If your DVD player is not capable of displaying both frame rates you can't watch on a North American player. However, many players are built for both markets and inherently are capable of both 50 hz and 60 hz. When these DVD's are produced they are copied to the disc in their native frame rate.
Most TV's don't have an issue as they'll convert all to 60 hz or 120 hz for viewing.
On a side note this is the only film where I have ever seen Patrick Stewart with hair.
As with all historical fiction, this version fills in a lot of gaps that we will never know, making events more dramatic or directed by malevolent intelligence, but it is an interpretation that is entirely plausible. This is the artist's license, and Graves was such a scholar that we can trust it. Moreover, it never crosses the line in melodrama or the maudlin.
The story takes place at the end of the Republic. Julius Caesar is gone, and after a power struggle, Octavian (soon renamed Augustus) has emerged with his hands firmly on the reigns of power. It is one of those watershed moments, in which an entire new way of governance is invented. While not quite an hereditary monarchy, the Roman Emperor must designate an heir to his absolute power, which resides in the hands of two linked families: the Julians and the Claudians. Who will succeed Augustus is the crux of the story. Claudius, deformed, stuttering, and apparently feeble-minded, appears as the least likely successor. However, the candidates around Augustus keep dying in mysterious ways. Then when successors are chosen, they lack not only the moderation of the conservative Augustus, but lack his truly masterful political instinct of maintaining certain social balances. The result is drift, unimaginable autocratic cruelty, and the final destruction of the old oligarchic ruling classes, paving the way for an entirely new class of politicians to arise. Amidst the most brutal manipulation and machination, Claudius finally has his turn, with very surprising results. It is a wonderful study in absolute power and its corrupting influence.
Many reviewers have criticized the copy. Upon viewing it, I must say that it is fine. The problem is that it was shot in the mid-1970s, which was a less technically adept time, and as a BBC production, it is lower budget that current viewers expect. Sure, some of the effects look chinsey, but the drama is so overpoweringly excellent that I cannot fault this.
Warmly recommended. As a classics major, this brings what I studied to life, deepening my fascination with that vanished world. For a general audience, this version can create an interest that will last a lifetime. It is absolutely first rate.