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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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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.
So I Claudius is obviously the funnest of the two, but The Caesars is for the Cognoscenti. If you know your Suetonius, then The Caesars sticks more to the original. The dialogue is probably Shakespearean, I am not exaggerating here.
Today, it seems that it is politically incorrect to clever-up the masses. The BBC won't dare hire writers of this caliber for fear of being called elitist (conspiracy theorists reckon that the dumbing down is intentional) and ITV is more interested in the X Factor.
Anyway, the Caesars is worth your time.
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