127 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BBC DRAMA AT ITS BEST
An epic soap opera following the life and times of the great imperial Cesars in Rome at the height of its world power. Massive helpings of sex, intrigue, violence and madness all acted with gusto by a stellar British cast, aided by a witty script and skillful direction. Both Derek Jacobi as Claudius and especially John Hurt as Caligula are absolutely mesmerising. If you...
Published on 14 May 2003 by MR BEN W HALTON
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant series ruined by Appalling DVD Mastering!
I Claudius is a brilliant T. V. series, but not if you watch it using these DVDs. The series is split over 2 DVDs with episodes 1-7 on DVD1 and 8-13 on DVD2. In order to fit the episodes on they have compressed the video resulting in very bad pixelation, the picture breaking up, the picture freezeing and halos around bright objects making it almost impossible to watch...
Published on 24 Jun 2011 by kjp-gb
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127 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars BBC DRAMA AT ITS BEST,
79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece!,
This review is from: I Claudius - Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set)  [DVD] (DVD)I remember seeing thie series on the TV many years ago, and I wondered how it would compare to my memories.
The bad stuff first: this dates from the time when the BBC used videotape, rather than film. Everything is studio-bound, and all the sets, even the most ambitious, are obviously just that, with multiple shadows. The picture quality is also soft, though the colour isn't too bad. As for the box, it contains precious little about the production: shame on you, BBC.
The good stuff: the artificiality actually helps, as you start to see this as a theatrical production, rather than a realistic one. And as such, it is tremendously gripping, with Graves' words impeccably transferred to the new medium, and a dream cast, with no weak link. Almost immediately you are drawn into the plot (Claudius doesn't actually appear for ages, but you don't care), and you are held until the end. Yes, it really is that good!
100 of 102 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The very best of BBC drama, excellently acted throughout.,
The power of this series lay in it's use of small sets, making the intrigue far more personal and believable. Poison dripped from every word, look and gesture of Sian Phillips as Livia. John Hurt was incredibly disturbed & disturbing as Caligula, and Derek Jacobi was amazing as Claudius, surviving when all around fell.
The biggest problem with I Claudius is that the acting and story are so powerful, I often find myself thinking of the actors Roman characters when I see them in other things.
This is a must watch piece of classic BBC drama, with the cream of British acting talent.
74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Age of Rome - and Television,
This review is from: I Claudius - Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set)  [DVD] (DVD)"I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, this that and the other, am now about to begin ......"
The opening words of this extraordinary series are the stuff of legend. Derek Jacobi as the Emperor Claudius, with his limp and his stammer (the yardstick by which all subsequent actorish stammers have been measured) and the remarkable makeup that takes him from old man to young man to old again turns in such a superb performance throughout the eleven episodes that he must be numbered one of the all-time greats in television drama.
The supporting cast is no less impressive - from the deadly Livia of Sian Phillips, the fiercely matriarchal Antonia of Margaret Tyzack (why was she never made a DBE ?) and Brian Blessed's homely, bumbling Augustus Caesar - down through the ranks to the minor roles, what we have here is ensemble playing of the highest quality.
It is deliciously theatrical - mainly because that was how the series was conceived. It could never have been 'Ben Hur' - or any other toga-clad epic with thousands of extras in a sun-drenched location - studio drama was never like that, and it's often a better and more powerful product because of its necessary limitations. 'I, Claudius' begins with a script that is a masterpiece of adaptation. Anyone who has ever ploughed through Robert Graves's original novels (yes, there are two of them, and mighty hefty they are) will realise the Herculean labour undertaken by Jack Pulman (who also adapted the BBC's 'War & Peace') and will have to agree that he did a superb job with extremely exacting material.
The novels contain very little dialogue, with most of what speech there is reported by the narrator, Claudius. To get round this, Jack Pulman has created a deliciously modern and often very funny tragi-comedy which somehow sits effortlessly among the fountains and colonnades and scantily-clad slaves of Ancient Rome - and the actors play it for all it's worth. It's frequently over the top, but it's meant to be, and it works.
The idea of a 'classical period' being portrayed in any other way is now virtually unthinkable. Thanks to 'I, Claudius' the heavy rhetoric and the thees and thous beloved of so many epics have gone for ever.
Even the music will be a surprise to anyone not familiar with the series: no brazen symphonic score or pseudo-antique strumming and tinkling of cymbals - we are blasted with a hard-hitting, almost jazzy affair to accompany the slithering of a viper across a mosaic depiction of the emperor and the opening titles.
There is plenty of sex and violence and even some nudity (yes, really, in 1976!) and in the days of the programmes' first transmission, warnings were given out that 'some viewers may find certain scenes disturbing ...'
Viewers of today needn't fear. They will have seen far worse on their screens, in every sense. They can watch all eleven episodes and enjoy them for all the right reasons. An added bonus is the BBC documentary 'The Epic That Never Was' introduced by a very elegant and well-spoken Dirk Bogarde. He charts the story of the failed attempt to film Graves's books in 1937. The producer Alexander Korda had Charles Laughton, Merle Oberon, Emlyn Williams and Flora Robson lined up and signed up to play the protagonists - alongside a galaxy of British movie stars. The project was doomed, and was abandoned a short way into shooting.
The surviving footage is shown in full, and is a fascinating record of vintage film production. There are entertaining interviews and anecdotes from surviving cast and crew alike, all extremely intelligent and at the forefront of their respective professions.
This boxed set of 'I, Claudius' on five DVDs is extremely good value, even at full price - and the series must remain one of the BBC's crowning glories. Like Shakespeare, it's for all time. The gods forbid that ANYONE be cynical enough to try doing a 'remake'.
If you haven't got a copy, get one. It's worth every penny or cent or euro, and probably always will be.
(MARGARET TYZACK'S OBITUARY APPEARED IN 'THE DAILY TELEGRAPH' IN JUNE, 2011. I HAVE ADDED THE TEXT TO THE COMMENTS SECTION BELOW. WORTH READING.)
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars By Jove!!,
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not to be missed,
By A Customer
This review is from: I, Claudius: Box Set [VHS]  (VHS Tape)If anyone has ever wanted to understand how the early Roman imperial dynasty operated, they can do no better than to watch this. The drama brings it all vividly to life with a unsurpassed cast (I especially like the Empress Livia magnificently played by Sian Phillips). At times, dark, comic, disturbing and even camp, this is probably the finest production the BBC has produced. I would even recommend that the contented viewer pick up the original novels by Robert Graves which are literary gems and certainly complement this. Rather than constraining it, the confined studio acting brings it alive - you won't find this subtlety or realism in 'Gladiator' or 'Ben Hur'. These characters are real human beings with real weaknesses. You have to wonder why they don't put this on DVD instead of so much other rubbish.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This year's best Christmas present,
The set itself is great value: the special features are informative and well made, with the whole production not having a dated, 70s feel. Overall, highly recommended.
52 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent DVD edition of a wonderful series,
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless genius,
But within five minutes I was gripped. There is some truly sensational acting on display in this masterpiece, Derek Jacobi in particular (his list of credits is long but his most recent high-profile role was Cadfael in the adaptations of Ellis Peters' novels) is superb as the narrator and hero. Portraying each age of the character from stuttering young boy dismissed as an idiot, to bitter old man poisoned by his wife but who yet gets the last laugh, Jacobi tackles the difficulties of the role with gusto and incredible acting skill. In fact it's hard to pick a character anywhere in the series who is not convincingly portrayed.
By the time I'd watched the finale I could barely believe I'd sat through twelve episodes of this work of genius. Never before and never since have I seen such consistently brilliant acting. So much so that my twenty-something brain, spoiled by special effects and computer wizardry, no longer noticed the wigs, the false noses and the polystyrene sets. I only saw the people who played their parts in this (vaguely accurate) historical story. And that is an achievement that will make "I, Claudius" worthy viewing forever. Highly recommended.
59 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Survival of the 'fittest',
It's such a delight to watch this serial again after all these years. The script, the acting, the camera work, the music - the whole package - is a remarkable achievement. You could argue that some of the make-up is a bit obvious and overdone but when you consider that the actors are followed through the story from their character's early youth to their extreme old age, it's hard to image how it could have been accomplished without heavy 'pancake' makeup. George Baker for example, was in his 40s and had to play Tiberius from his fit, athletic 20s into his sick and degenerate 80s. And he and all the other actors who had to pull off this amazing trick, caked in rubber, powder and all manner of uncomfortable material, managed it with style. There are dozens of noteworthy scenes and the actors are allowed to pick their favourites on one of the special features on disc 5. One of my particular favourites escaped notice on the actors' interviews feature, so I'll just mention it here. Look out for Tiberius having an angry, impotent rant at his mother, Livia, over the injustice of Augustus' ingratitude and coldness towards him. It's worthy of Basil Fawlty. Very funny. There's a huge amount of humour throughout though, which is quite an feat amidst all the seriously nasty, ugly viciousness. These programmes hook us in at every level. The imperial family are depicted in a way that makes them seem ordinary and accessible, like soap opera characters. You can see how they could have been normal people if they hadn't been corrupted by power. They're ruthless in their determination to get what they want, but at the same time they have parent/child and sibling relationships, friendships and good natured rivalries, that make them seem reasonable, genial and even caring - but don't trust any of them, whatever you do. These people are complex, interesting and lethal. Corruption is the norm because most of the people who were found to be incorruptible have been eliminated.
There are 13 episodes of 50 minutes each (the first 2 episodes have been joined into one of about 1 hour 40 minutes so only 12 are listed) on the first 4 discs and the 5th disc has a nice collection of extras, including interviews with the actors, director and the author Robert Graves, who wrote the books "I, Claudius" and "Claudius the God" that this production was based upon. There is an interesting 70 minute documentary about an epic film of the books that was never completed, officially because Merle Oberon, who was playing Messalina was in a car accident, but really because the director, Josef von Sternberg couldn't get on with his leading man (Claudius) Charles Laughton. Quite a lot of that old film survives and the contrast between it and the serial is interesting. There's also a very useful graphic of the family tree on disc 5. The relationships between the people in Augustus and Livia's family are so convoluted (and what we would regard as incestuous) that it really helps to understand how they're all related. All excellent stuff. Highly recommended!
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I, Claudius  [DVD] by Derek Jacobi (DVD - 1976)