The Caesars - The Complete Series (2 Disc Set) [DVD] 
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The complete six-part series, following the rule of the Roman Emperor Augustus (Roland Culver) and the battles for succession after his death. After years of civil war following the assassination of Julius Caesar, his adopted son Octavian manages to unite the various factions and assume control of the Empire. Taking the name Augustus, he presides over an unparalleled period of growth and prosperity, but when he dies, the Empire is thrown into confusion by the corrupt and violent reigns of Tiberius (André Morell) and the insane Caligula (Ralph Bates).
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Unfortunately for Augustus, his family do not live up to his high ideals as they attempt to marry, scheme, plot, and murder their way to the throne. On the way we meet: the handsome but inept Germanicus (Eric Flynn); the scheming Agrippina (Caroline Blakiston); the unwilling but ruthless Tiberius (Andre Morell); the murderous Sejanus (Barrie Ingham); and the downright evil Caligula (Ralph Bates). Watching all this is Claudius (Freddy Jones). Claudius is regarded a s a dimwit because of his club-foot and stutter - but he is the most intelligent of the lot.
The Caesars (1968) was one of the last major series to be made in black and white and is an example of the quality drama made by ITV at it's peak. It consists of six episodes, each concentrating on one of the major players. It was written by Philip Mackie and was highly acclaimed at the time. Freddy Jones was awarded the TV best actor award at Cannes for his portrayal of Claudius. The Caesars is set about 50 years after the mini-series Rome(2005) and covers roughly the same period as I Claudius (1976); although from a different perspective. It is easily the equal to, if not better than, either of these mini-series.
The six episodes are:
(1) Augustus: Who should succeed him?Read more ›
There are six episodes: Augustus, Germanicus, Tiberius, Sejanus, Caligula, and Claudius. Tiberius is the primary figure in the first five, Caligula in the last. Comparisons to I, Claudius are unavoidable, and this series preceded the eponymous Derek Jacobi work. Better than I, Claudius?? Certainly different, if not better written in some ways, and Andre Morell is mesmerizing.
[Aside to Americans or others afraid of buying the "wrong" region: The discs play on your computer no problem, or on a "region free" DVD player - take the plunge; I've been very pleased with gaining access to otherwise "lost" material
This is a shame because once you get over that shock this is a an ambitious and I think succesful attempt to examine the psychology of the early emperors. I can't but help think that much of the characterisation set the template for the much more famous "I Claudius" to follow.
The series focuses on the strange relationship the early emperors had with their power. Like all Romans they were ambitious to achieve glory for their family and Rome but also felt uncomfortable with absolute power and shunned much of its trappings. The central character is Tiberius and rightly so. He is one of history's great paradoxes - a man of enormous ability but whom his contemporaries and historians would vilify. Why? Because, if you believe the series, he could never be bothered to pretend he didn't enjoy the power but could not give it up.
True or not I don't know but as a super aristicratic Claudian he would have expected power and glory (and he merited it) but it came to him by gift not achievement.
All the other characters are measured against him. Augustus charming but ruthless, Germanicus vacillating, Livia and Agrippina power hungry, Sejanus and Macro ambitious and Caligula mad. All these stories are told and you are left sympathising with Tiberius. The story ends with Claudius and tkaing power. His reaction to power is unexpected; basically you feel he is not overly fond of the role but concludes that despite the madness of Caligula Rome needs an emperor not a republic any more. After him the emperors will no longer be equivocal about power.
Having seen "The Caesars" when I was at school, I could not understand the swooning praise heaped on the Derek Jacobi (who was about the best thing in it) "I Claudius" which is overwhelmingly superficial, inaccurate and a kind of infantile, tabloid version of the far better novels by Robert Graves (who had a sense of humour though tyou wouldn't guess it from this travesty).
The real Augustus, to take just one example, was physically slight, intellectually subtle and personally formidable so casting Brian Blessed (of all people - was it some kind of grotesque joke?) in that role in "I Claudius" was grotesquely wrong. Roland Culver was an infinitely better choice.
This was a series about the realities of power in any period - and rather closely followed the surviving record of the sophisticated and lurid Roman historian Suetonius.
Of course, the B&W picture is sometimes rather dodgy but it is probably as good as we will get - and TV production was pretty rough in 1968 compared to today's digitalised everything and spectacular nothingness.
The writing and acting are still amazingly good.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
appalling sound and picture quality: this is very old b&w tv series which has not survived transferPublished 5 days ago by PH
Watched this today great viewing maybe black and white it's just brilliantPublished 2 months ago by karl corcoran