I, Claudius - 1976 (Not Rated)


Year(s) Aired: 1976
Year of DVD Release: 2000
Rated: Not Rated
Written By: Jack Pulman
Approx. Running Time: 740 minutes (including documentary)
Format(s): DVD (5 discs)
My Rating: 4 stars (Out of 5)

From Back Cover:

I, CLAUDIUS - it may well be the finest and most gripping miniseries to date in the distinguished Masterpiece Theatre collection."
-Boston Herald

I, CLAUDIUS ranks among the most acclaimed productions in BBC history. Tracing the lives of several Roman emperors, it's an epic of ruthless ambition, shocking debauchery and murderous intrigue set in one of history's most fascinating eras. Bearing witness to the saga is Claudius, whose stutter and limp have marked him a fool - yet whom prophecies have foretold will one day rule Rome.

Also included is a unique documentary feature, "The Epic That Never Was," a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at Alexander Korda's ill-fated 1937 screen adaptation of I, CLAUDIUS. Starring Merle Oberon and Charles Laughton and narrated by Dirk Bogarde, the chronicle of this uncompleted masterpiece is an unforgettable coda to one of the greatest stories ever told.

Episode Summary:

Claudius, emporer of Rome, nears the end of his life and commences to write his family's history. The incredible memoir begins before his birth, during the rule of Augustus. Augustus is married to the beautiful, treacherous Livia, who plots to have her son, Tiberius, inherit her husband's throne. Only the emporer's spoiled dauther, Julia, stands in her way.

Almost ten years pass before Livia can realize her dream of vengeance and arrange the poisoning of Julia's husband. Now Tiberius can marry Julia, enhancing his chance of becoming emporer. But the union fares poorly. When Tiberius' brother, Drusus dies in the care of Livia's doctor, Tiberius is driven to despair and embarks on a violent rampage that ends in his banishment from Rome.

Determined to see her exiled son, Tiberius, become emporer, Livia uses blackmail and murder to eliminate rivals and end his banishment. Julia herself is banished, after Livia reveals details of her orgies to Augustus, turning him against his own daughter. Finally, Tiberius returns to Rome. But he must wait in the shadow of the aging Augustus for his time on the throne, and so must Livia.

Only one obstacle remains between Tiberius and th throne: Julia's son and heir to Augutus, Postumus. Livis entraps Postumus in an adulterous tryst and he is arrested for rape and banished from Rome. Postumus reveals her plots to Claudius, Livia's stammering and lame grandson. Claudius, though regarded as a half-wit, is wiser than anyone suspects, hiding behind the face of a fool in order to survive.

Emporer Augustus grows more senile. Tiberius bides his time. But when revelations of Livia's crimes reach Augustus, the emporer, realizing he has been duped, writes a new will favoring Postumus in order to block Tiberius from gaining the throne. Livia, in an ultimate act of treachery, slowly poisons her husband. After his death, she substitutes her own version of the emporer's will and orders the murder of her remaining rivals. Tiberius rules Rome.

Suspicions of a conspiracy involving Livia and Tiberius abound. A Senate trial must be rigged to clear the emporer's henchmen. But when the cover-up begins to unravel, one of the defendants threatens to implicate Tiberius himself in murder. He lives just long enough to regret his threat.

Tiberius revels in a life of erotic hedonism, living only for perverted pleasures, egged on by Agrippina's cunning son, Caligula. His former allies see his end ahead and build ties to Claudius, next in line for the throne. Livia, a mere shell of her former self, now regret's her son's savage reign. On her deathbed, she reveals the full scope of the family's crimes to Claudius - and makes him promise that she will be revered as a goddess for generations to come.

Tiberius, old and frail, slowly begins killing off all who could succeed him. Fearing assassination, he orders a purge, leaving the Senate piled high with the bodies of his enemies. Claudius survives only through cleverness. Finally, Tiberius banishes his long-hated rival Agrippina along with her son, Nero. Caligula is now in position to capture the throne.

Episode 9: ZEUS, BY JOVE!
On the brink of death, Tiberius names Caligula heir to the Roman throne. To win favor with the masses, Caligula spreads money left by Tiberius among the Roman people and pledges to pay off Livia's debts. A new age of prosperity seems to be beginning. But Caligula soon descends into madness. He declares himself a god and embarks on an orgy of bloodletting, murdering all who might challenge his heavenly rule - even his own sister.

Episode 10: HAIL WHO?
Caligula, now totally mad, turns the imperial palace into a brothel with orgies and gambling. The empire is in financial ruin, though Claudius retains his dreams that one day the true Roman republic will be restored. Caligula taunts his court with ever greater wickedness. Finally, he is assassinated right in front of the eyes of Claudius. The soldiers, eager to justify their coup, give the crown to Claudius. At last he is the emporer of Rome, as had been prophesied.

Episode 11: FOOL'S LUCK
"Trust no one" is the advice Claudius receives from a valued friend as he assumes the throne. But the aging emporer is at the peak of his life. His beautiful young wife, Messalina, gives him a son and daughter, and Rome's finances improve. But his wife secretly lusts for the nobleman Appius Silanus and is determined to seduce him. Her cunning manipulations lead to an attempt on the life of Claudius - and an order for the death of Appius.

While Claudius leads his army in Britain, his wife organizes a tournament of sex, challenging the Guild of Prostitutes to provide a champion to compete with her. Claudius returns from his campaign victorious, but his wife's infidelities have made a fool of him. When she cuckolds him by "marrying" another man in a Bacchanalian feast, his public humiliation is complete. After consulting with his advisors, Claudius signs a warrant for his wife's execution.

Episode 13: OLD KING LOG
Claudius is pursuaded to remarry for his children's sake. He takes Agrippinilla, the most corrupt woman in Rome and the secret lover of his key advisor as his bride. Claudius wants only to make use of her brilliant mind while she longs for a position of power. The epic story of his family's history he has been writing is now complete. Knowing the prophesy that her son, Nero, will be Rome's last monarch, Claudius is ready to meet his death when his wife poisons him.

This fascinating documentary reveals the complete behind-the-scenes story of Alexander Korda's ill-fated 1937 screen version of I, CLAUDIUS. Starring Merle Oberon, Charles Laughton, Emlyn Williams and Flora Robson, this account chronicles the rehearsals, the set construction and the financial excesses of the legendary, doomed production. Interviews with surviving cast members and poet-novelist Robert Graves provide a fitting coda to the unforgettable tale of this uncompleted masterpiece. Narrated by Dirk Brogarde and written and produced by Bill Duncalf.

My Comments:

An excellent and well acted mini-series based on the autobiography of Roman emporer Claudius. However, this is really only for people who possess both a keen interest in ancient Roman history and a lot of spare time.

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4 Stars
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