Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Movies Post

Tonight's TV show: I, Claudius.

I just rewatched it...I've been thinking of doing a post on it for a while now, but I've always been stumped by one thing: what to say about the politics of the show.  But, first, the show itself.  From 1976 (and, if I recall correctly, shown on PBS and Masterpiece Theater in about 1978). Thirteen episodes, so it's not a long commitment.  It's set in the early empire, beginning with the middle or so of Augustus's reign.  And, well, if you like Romans speaking, as all proper Romans do, with British accents...this is as good as it gets.  Not just because of all the fun (and there's lots of it, with scheming, and double-crossing, and betrayals, and such), but above all for the four great performances.  Derek Jacobi as Claudius; John Hurt as Caligula; Sian Phillips as Livia; and my favorite, Brian Blessed as Augustus.  I'm not sure that there's another series between Claudius and Battlestar Gallactica that had so many performances I enjoyed watching that much.

Oh, and if all that isn't enough...Patrick Stewart shows up for a while.  With really silly hair (production values, overall, aren't all they could have been, so don't expect too much on that end).

So, on to the politics.  Well...I don't really have much to say.  There's all sorts of interesting gender stuff; women are, throughout the series, the motivating forces, and most of them are insanely ambitious, horribly malevolent, just plain insane, or some combination thereof.  One could spend plenty of time thinking about gender and the combination of the original source material (that is, the historical record); the Robert Graves novels from the 1930s, and the TV series from the 1970s.  The other thing to have fun with is the fatalism of the series, which (just a little spoiler here) really comes out not until the very end.  I suppose one could also use it to think about one of my favorite subjects, corruption.

Really, however, what we're dealing with here is palace intrigue, sort of souped-up Machiavelli (and, for once, I'm using Machiavelli in the traditional sense, not the republican Machiavelli).  Except its a first-rate version of that, acted as well as you're going to get.  That's fine, and fun, but that part of it doesn't suggest a whole lot of things to say, at least to me.

By the way...Derek Jacobi would have been a much better Dumbledore.  I mean, you never get your dream cast, and I don't have a whole lot of casting complaints about Potter...but Derek Jacobi would have been just a great Dumbledore.

Highest recommendation.  It's not, I suppose, quite as good as TV drama at its best over the last 10-15 years, but if you've never watched it, you're really missing out on one of the best.


  1. I think it's as good as what we've had the pleasure of watching over the last 10-15 years.

    If you want to convince someone, remind them that Tony Soprano's mom came from I, Claudius.

  2. All teriffic performances, but I've always been particularly fond of George Baker's Tiberius, a great picture of soured ambition. I wonder how many politicians make it to the top only to find that it isn't worth it...

  3. My favorite line from the series:

    CLAUDIUS: Your brother has been arrested!

    CALIGULA: That's terrible.

    CLAUDIUS: Well, aren't you going to do anything about it?

    CALIGULA: I said I was sorry.

  4. This is a great show. My favorite is also Brian Blessed. The scene when he and Agrippa work out a deal for the latter to return to Rome - hard bargaining under the guise of friendship - is outstanding.

  5. Great comments, all.

    Did Tiberius ever really have that much ambition? Some, yes, but I think it's unclear that ambition motivates him. I think he wants respect, which he rarely gets (especially from Augustus, but from others, too).

    I also have more thoughts about Augustus, but I think it's too much for comments. Real short version: I spent a lot of time this time around thinking of him as a guy who already had conquered the world when he was young, and how that fit with his jovial demeanor when we see him. The scene w/Agrippa works for that real well for me.


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