Wednesday, September 22, 2021

I, Claudius

Roman history was part of my high school curriculum.  We talk of cut throat  regimes, but the Romans were way ahead of us.  For entertainment some of them demanded someone die usually by a sharp blade.  

 Back in 1976 the BBC released this series and it may seem dated, probably reflecting both technology and budget limitations.  How realistic by modern standards?  Several stabbings are depicted and one where a woman has a baby removed from her womb and cannibalized.  You don't actually see any penetration, but see blood flowing.  Romans were noted for orgies and adulteries and the viewer sometimes watches bare breasts or buttocks, but the simulation of sexual activity is mild by modern standards.  There are no large crowds, but we hear large crowds.  It is realistic enough and the story is compelling. 

 The story begins with an old Claudius writing his memoirs.  After his birth he was seen as lame and a stuttering fool.  An omen in his favor was when a wolf fell on him from a flying eagle.  He survived as not threatening, although at various times others want to get rid of him as he made them feel uncomfortable.  He was upset at the gladiator games. 

History interested the young Claudius and he later won respect of one historian while offending another.  He witnessed up close the rulers and their many intrigues.  There were many brutal murders, some by knife, sword or poison.  Lying was common to project false loyalties.  At one point a contest between a prostitute and an adulterer (Claudius's wife) to establish who have more sex in a limited time.  The story covers about 70 years and includes Marcellus, Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula.  The first are schemers, but Caligula is insane, believing himself to be a God.  Subordinates tip toe around him.  Claudius rules for awhile, but knowing a lot about intrigues was very careful. There are references to Jesus, but his importance is dismissed.  Claudius can best as a religious skeptic.  The story continues to the death of Claudius which is by poisoning. 

Herbert Wise, the director later married to Fiona Walker who played Agripina.  His career was mostly with  BBC television. most success after Claudius winning an award for "Skokie" about Nazi group in U.S.  Some of the series he directed included "Cadfael"(1996- 1997), and "Inspector Morse" (1989- 1996).

Jack Pulman, script writer who had worked on many BBC projects  "Portrait of a Lady" (1968) and  "War and Peace" (1972- 1973).

Robert Graves, wrote the novels that formed "I, Claudius".  He started as a poet and had poetry books published during WW I while he served as an officer.  He wrote a series of books on the story told by Claudius.  Decades later he was involved in the television script.

Derek Jacobi was a key motivation to watch this long series.   Recognized as a distinguished actor on stage, movies and television.  Over the years I have enjoyed watching him in "Cadfael (1994- 1998)", "Breaking the Codes (1996),  "The Jury" (2002)", "Last Tango in Halifax" 2012- 2020)  as the leading character and many more in supporting roles.  He said at one time that the toughest makeup was the six hours it took to get him ready to play Claudius as an old man.  He has studied history at Cambridge.

Sian Philips won a BAFTA award for her portrayal of Livia, perhaps the key intriguer in "I, Claudius".  She married Peter O'Toole and appeared with him in "Beckett" (1964), and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969.  Well known on stage, winning a Tony award for "Marlene" (1997- 1999)

.John Hurt, played the insane Caligua.  Has appeared in such films as "The Elephant Man" (1980), "Captain Corelli's Mandoliln" (2001), "Snowpiercer" (2013) and "Jackie" (2016).

Patrick Stewart played Sejanus.  Perhaps best known as Captain Jean-Luc Picard with Star Trek1987- 2022).  

Movie viewers in modern times become complacent about violence and treachery.  We shouldn't forget that violence and treachery are not new.  Ancient history really isn't ancient.  Instead of guns and explosives they dealt with knives and swords.  The Romans were organizers (and intriguers).  Well worth a look.

I have bolded the movies I have watched.

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