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Customer Review

on 26 October 2002
The greatest television series ever to be made anywhere in the world has finally appeared on region 2 DVD with extensive restoration work done on the original master tapes.
'I, Claudius' charts the bloody and often terrifying reign of four successive Roman Emperors from Augustus through to Claudius himself. Rarely does any series deserve the status of classic but this thirteen hour series produced in 1976 contains some of the finest acting I�ve ever seen on TV. Derek Jacobi plays the role of the unfortunate Claudius who because of his stammer and other inflictions such as a limp is shunned by his royal family. He is widely mocked despite being of royal blood and considered an embarrassing fool by most of those closest to him.
Appearances are deceiving though and Claudius has a brilliant mind plus a keen interest in history and a longing for the return of the republic. Claudius soon learns that in order to survive the bloody power battles between members of his family (and the murderous games of poisoning instigated by his insane Aunt Livia), he must carry on acting the �fool�. Whilst all those around them literally lose their heads in the often-barbaric struggles for power, Claudius remains unsuspected and begins to chronicle the real history of his royal family.
Based on the famous novel by Robert Graves, 'I, Claudius' is a gripping and thought-provoking story. The Roman Empire was the greatest civilisation the world had ever seen. It�s power reached all four corners of the globe whilst the Roman society itself was a complex one. 'I, Claudius' brilliantly exposes the fascinating conflicts within the Roman royal circle. On the one hand, you have this impressive civilisation that achieved many unique feats that haven�t been repeated since (and we must pray that no one country ever has this amount of power ever again). Yet despite their complex and envied infrastructure, the Romans themselves were ruled by petty superstition and a fear of many Gods. For example, one character�s murderous path is driven by her desire to be made a goddess after death. With so many great performances from a wealth of top British actors (Star Trek�s Patrick Stewart plays the ambitious and deadly Sejanus who will stop at nothing to achieve power over the senate and it puts his politically correct portrayal of Pickard to shame), it�s difficult to pick out a leading actor. Brian Blessed, Fiona Walker, Sian Phillips & Derek Jocobi were all superb. Mention must go however, to John Hurt�s unforgettable performance of Caligula who ends up marrying his sister then declares he has become a god.
As Caligula falls deeper into mental illness, he begins to rule Rome through fear and instant executions. Hurt is quite simply terrifying in this role.
'I, Claudius' has it all. The series is a potent mix of betrayal, murder, incest, orgies, humour, political intrigue, stunning dialogue and convincing characters. The camera work for a series made as long ago as 1976 is inspired compared to most of today�s TV that is static and dull in comparison.
Underneath it all however is a very series message � a warning from history that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Because of the fact that 'I, Claudius' was shot on video as opposed to film, the whole production has an intimate feeling and you can�t help but be dragged in to it. It�s like being in the front row of a classic play. You forget you are a viewer and take on the role, as observer such is its intensity at times.
Younger viewers more used to a diet of soaps, trashy drama and declining BBC standards may find some themes disturbing. Indeed, a few of the scenes including those featuring Caligula are pretty strong even by modern standards.
The region 2 release has been digitally remastered with no hint of grain and comes complete with a new BBC documentary that contains fascinating insights from the director Herbert Wise and several of the actors involved. Archive footage of Derek Jacobi and Sian Phillips (wearing a stunning dress!) is included from when they both won BAFTA awards in 1976 for their unique performances, and another extra allows the actors to choose their favourite scenes. There is also a handy, interactive family tree to help remind the viewer of the show's many characters and their complex relationships to each other.
A reminder of British TV's former glory days, 'I, Claudius' is thirteen hours of pure TV heaven....
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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