Customer Review

76 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Golden Age of Rome - and Television, 9 April 2010
This review is from: I Claudius - Complete BBC Series (5 Disc Box Set) [1976] [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.

Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines ">here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking on the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in


Tracked by 3 customers

Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-10 of 18 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Jul 2010 17:21:22 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 5 Jul 2010 17:24:14 BDT]

Posted on 5 Jul 2010 17:22:38 BDT
Motte 1 says:
Excellent....I found it thrilling in '76. Splendid review.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jul 2010 19:42:10 BDT
Green Knight says:
Hello - how kind of you to say so. I appreciate it. I have a VERY soft spot for the series, and still think it's admirable drama to be returned to again and again. Thanks!

Posted on 15 Sep 2010 19:13:29 BDT
The documentary about the first attempt to film I Claudius is indeed fascinating, however it wasn't in the 1950s but 1937.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Dec 2010 16:18:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 13 Jan 2011 18:55:05 GMT
Green Knight says:
Thank you for that - much appreciated. I have corrected the text accordingly. (I'm slightly mystified as to where my original choice of date came from! It seems so obviously inaccurate.)

Posted on 30 Jun 2011 12:57:36 BDT
Last edited by the author on 30 Jun 2011 12:58:45 BDT
Green Knight says:

Margaret Tyzack, who died on June 25, 2011 aged 79, was an immensely versatile actress, known for her classical stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company and for her performances in television series such as The Forsyte Saga, The First Churchills and I, Claudius.

In The First Churchills (1969) she played Queen Anne, winning a Bafta award for best actress; she was equally memorable as Claudius's mother (and Mark Antony's daughter) Antonia Minor in I, Claudius (1976). She also won a Bafta for her performance as the manipulative Cousin Bette in the BBC's 1971 adaptation of Balzac's novel.

But it was the role of Winifred, sister of Soames Forsyte and besotted wife of the caddish Montague Dartie, in the BBC's 26-part adaptation of John Galsworthy's family saga, that made her a household name. The series, of which Margaret Tyzack was always immensely proud, was so popular that some vicars were said to have rescheduled Sunday evening services so that members of their congregation would not have to choose between God and the small screen.

None the less Margaret Tyzack considered herself to be a character actor and was always happiest in the theatre. While she may have lacked the superficial glamour of some of her contemporaries, her name on a cast list was always a guarantee of at least one accomplished, thoughtful and unselfish performance. She won a Olivier Award for playing the uncouth, booze-sodden Martha in a 1981 revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? For her portrayal of the imperiously spiteful Mrs St Maugham, a grand Edwardian relic in the manner of Lady Bracknell, in Michael Grandage's revival of Enid Bagnold's The Chalk Garden at the Donmar Warehouse, she won the Best Actress award in the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards in 2008 and the Olivier Award for Best Actress in 2009.

On Broadway Margaret Tyzack was nominated for a Tony award in 1983 as the Countess of Roussillon in Trevor Nunn's RSC production of All's Well That Ends Well. Her performance as the spinsterish Lotte Schoen, travel agency executive, opposite Maggie Smith's gloriously eccentric stately home tour guide in Peter Shaffer's Lettice and Lovage (in London in 1987 and on Broadway in 1990) won her Tony and Variety Club stage actress of the year awards.

Margaret Tyzack was born in Essex on September 9 1931, the daughter of a sugar factory foreman. She was educated at St Angela's Ursuline convent in Forest Gate and later claimed to have "drifted into acting" by accident after a drama teacher at school spotted her potential. "Really, I'm a refugee from the typing pool," Margaret Tyzack said later. "That would have been the alternative. Or maybe selling something in Harrods." She trained at Rada, where she was in the same class as Joan Collins and won a prize for comedy.

She went into repertory in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, making her first stage appearance as a bystander in Shaw's Pygmalion in 1951. For the next two years she performed as a "character juvenile" in a play a week for 48 weeks a year. She regarded this apprenticeship as the foundation of her later career, though she could remember being so exhausted that in Wuthering Heights she found herself momentarily too tired to speak.
It was in Chesterfield that she developed her soon famous audibility: "If you were warned for inaudibility on Wednesday and still couldn't be heard on Thursday, you'd be sacked on Friday. You had to learn quickly," she recalled. For the rest of her career she preferred working in Victorian or Edwardian theatres - "that wonderful old horseshoe shape"- not only because "you always know you can be heard" but also because "the architects who built those theatres knew something that a lot of modern architects don't know."

Margaret Tyzack made her London debut in 1959 in a Sunday night tryout of Alun Owen's Progress to the Park at the Royal Court, and went on to play Miss Frost, the genteel spinster seduced by Sebastian Dangerfield, in JP Donlevy's The Ginger Man.
A long association with the Royal Shakespeare Company began with a role as Vassilissa in Gorki's Lower Depths (Arts, 1963) and she was rarely out of work in the years that followed.

After her television roles brought Margaret Tyzack to the attention of audiences across the Atlantic in the mid-1970s, she spent three years on stage at Stratford, Ontario, where she played Mrs Alving in Ibsen's Ghosts, Queen Margaret in Richard III and the Countess of Roussillon.

On her return to England in 1979 she was the landlady in Athol Fugard's kitchen sink drama People Are Living There, "swooping from the highest notes of aggressive hysteria to the lowest register of humiliation and despair" according to one critic. In 1985 she won high praise for her performance on Broadway as Rose, Viv's mother, in Tom and Viv, Michael Hastings's play about the troubled marriage between TS Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood.

Margaret Tyzack's partnership with Maggie Smith was revived in 1993 when she played Miss Prism to Smith's Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Aldwych. The two were again reunited three years later when they appeared together in a production of Alan Bennett's Soldiering On.

Throughout her stage career Margaret Tyzack made regular appearances on the big screen. She was Elena in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and a conspirator in his A Clockwork Orange (1971). In 1987 she was Madame Lambert in Stephen Frears's film of Joe Orton's Prick Up Your Ears and in 1997 was Lady Bruton, reactionary pillar of empire, in Marleen Gorris's film of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Other film credits include The Whisperers (1967), Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things (2003), Richard Claus's The Thief Lord (2005) and Woody Allen's Match Point.

Her television credits included Quatermass, Young Indiana Jones, Miss Marple, Our Mutual Friend and Dalziel & Pascoe. Her last stage appearance was as Oenone, Helen Mirren's elderly nurse in Nicholas Hytner's production of Phèdre at the National in 2009. Earlier this year she made a brief appearance as Lydia Simmonds in EastEnders until illness forced her to withdraw.

Margaret Tyzack was a modest, unassuming woman who liked to boast that she could go shopping without being recognised and remained unfazed by the glitz of acting award ceremonies. When she picked up the Critics' Circle best actress award for her role as Mrs St Maugham, she gave her fellow actors a lesson in how to accept by applying what she called "the three Gs: be grateful, gracious - and get off".

Margaret Tyzack was appointed OBE in 1970 and CBE in 2010. She married, in 1958, the mathematician Alan Stephenson, with whom she had a son.

Posted on 28 Mar 2012 00:33:53 BDT
Last edited by the author on 28 Mar 2012 00:40:11 BDT
Sussman says:
I very good review: Thank you - my DVD sees repeated use, every few months, a tale I never tire from

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2012 18:13:32 BDT
Green Knight says:
Likewise. And many thanks for your nice comment. Keep enjoying.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Oct 2012 14:49:45 BDT
Thank you for your informations. I must get out my printer and use it.
I missed the revival of THE CHALK GARDEN, a play that I treasure. During the eighties, we could buy first row dress circle seats without becoming paupers. In August, my wife wanted to see the Roald Dahl play (or adaptation), but it was too
expensive.That serves us right for being frenchie plebs!

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Oct 2012 19:10:26 BDT
Green Knight says:
With such entertaining and bright comments like yours, m'sieur, you are obviously anything but a 'pleb'! And if being unable to afford the extortionate price of a theatre seat has anything to do with it, then I am the greatest pleb of all ... unfortunately.
‹ Previous 1 2 Next ›

Review Details



Location: London, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,019