Monday, 13 June 2016

Oh I Love... I Claudius

Image result for i claudius bbc

First off, I'd like to apologise for not posting over the weekend. Things came up.

I'd intended to write about the trap that is the cat's tummy, and about an inspirational person (Jack Munroe). I'll come back to write those pieces in due course, perhaps as soon as next weekend.

Anyway, today I'm writing about the TV series I, Claudius.

First, I'm going to let you get your breath back... yes I'm blogging about a TV show. It's an old one, from the 1970s but it's still something that happens on the idiot's lantern.

The series was based on a novel from the 1930s and both book and show trace the steps of the first ruling dynasty of Rome, from Augustus to Claudius himself. This leaves only Nero, who's tale is untold out of Julian-Claudian Caesars. Claudius is the character who gives us the view of this unique period of Western history, beginning in his Grandfather, Augustus' court. Here we find the machinations of politics and ambition already at work as Livia, Augustus' wife, works to make her son Tiberius Emperor. It continues in a similar fashion for the rest of the series, documenting the domestic life of the palace and the many scandals that befall the imperial family. Thus, we have some idea of the sexual perversions of Tiberius, Caligula, and Messalina, and the oddly childlike and unaware fashion in which Claudius lives his life.

I don't want to go into too much detail, in case you decide to watch it, suffice to say that it's very good and does a fine job of telling the story of this dynasty with only limited sets and actors. As a Brit it's also fun to play 'spot the actor' as best I can, spotting people like the chap who played Toby Estehazy in the BBC version of the John le Carre novels. It does suffer a little from shaky set syndrome, and Messalina's palace, in particular, looks fake, and very like a stage. In addition, some of the acting is a little ropy, though the main characters are well portrayed. It probably lacks the guts or gore of HBO's Rome series but I felt that it carried the horrors implicit in the Roman age off quite well without actually delving into them with glorious technicolour.

Having said that the pace was slow, and I could see modern viewers being turned off it because of the lack of running about and shouting. As is typical for pieces from this era of British TV it moved at a glacial, if stately, pace. While it wasn't boring per se there were moments where I wished they'd hurry it up, and I like a slow pace to pieces as I think it brings out little nuances that a welter of explosions and gunplay would miss. The pace does, in my opinion, allow the series to juggle the many different aspects of the ancient world and the story the show tells with grace and in places aplomb. It may be made stronger by the lack of special effects and CGI, the thing rests on the actors' abilities. Derek Jacobi makes a fine Claudius, stutter and limp and all (though I don't buy the idea of him being half-witted).

All in all, I greatly enjoyed the series and thought it was well worth watching.

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