Saturday, May 10, 2014

I, Claudius

"I, Claudius" is an interesting 1976 BBC miniseries with twelve episodes. Its success provided an incentive for the later epic, big-budget "Rome" of the twenty-first century. The 1976 show is not nearly as refined as "Rome," but the acting and writing is at least as good, if not better.

The show is close, I think, to certain historical texts, although Robert Graves did make some assumptions. I wondered whether Augustus was really as gullible as he is portrayed in "I, Claudius." The main facts are that he did indeed imprison his own daughter, and his favorites died one by one under mysterious circumstances. One cannot conclude that he was a good judge of character. I think that Augustus was an abject failure as an Emperor, because he botched his succession. Instead of appointing anyone worthy, he permitted others to choose Tiberius, which was disastrous for Rome. Tiberius was followed by an even worse Emperor, Caligula. These two mismanaged affairs of state very badly.

I think Augustus deserves at least some of the blame for the bad things that happened under his reign. Robert Graves implies that all the evil was the fault of his wife. However, Augustus was the one with real power. I doubt he was as gullible as portrayed in the show. I think he relied upon his wife for advice and intelligent ideas, which were sometimes useful, but he failed to perceive when she was manipulating him for her own ends.

The problem with "I, Claudius" is the loud, screeching theme music that accompanies both the beginning and the end. Whoever came up with that abominable sound should have been fired. A viewer would be prudent to mute the first and last minute of each episode.

Almost every woman on the show breaks down into tears and sobbing whenever there is a crisis. In my experience, this is not how women behave, but this is how women were portrayed in film due to the notions of the men that produced the films. I think that this more than anything else dates the show. I have to wonder why those actresses behaved so. Perhaps the director put them up to it, and the fault was all his. Perhaps the producers felt they had to meet audience expectations. The only really good actress on the show was the arch-villain, Livia, but "cold snake" seemed the limit of her range. At least she didn't burst into tears every time bad news arrived. I really doubt that ancient Romans behaved so, because they dwelt in a world of sudden death, unexplained mysteries, injustice, corruption and cruelty.

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