When in Rome, don’t do as Romans do

I, Claudius (1976, UK)

BBC Mini Series (13 Parts)
Director: Herbert Wise
Written by: Robert Graves (novels), Jack Pulman
Cast: Derek Jacobi, Siân Phillips, Brian Blessed, John Hurt, George Baker, Margaret Tyzack, Ian Ogilvy


‘Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out’

Marvellous BBC adaptation of Robert Graves’ novels about the Julio-Claudian dynasty as seen through the eyes of the unlikely emperor Claudius. Not a slight task to transfer this fascinating period of history to the small screen. But they pull it off with some brilliant production design, acting and writing.

Every episode (except for 10) starts with an aging Claudius flashing back in time. From the beginning of the dynasty, when Augustus was emperor, until the rulership of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius himself (who was eventually followed up by Nero). Brian Blessed stars as Augustus, a decisive emperor with a talent for leadership. His reign takes place in a time of conquest when Rome was still rich and powerful. Augustus’ scheming wife and Claudius’ grandmother Livia poisons everybody that has a claim on the position of Caesar until the time is right for her son, Tiberius, to rule. One by one, the members of the imperial family are killed off by Livia. All except for Claudius, who has a disability but is held for a much greater fool than he really is. It is only by acting like a nut that Claudius survives…

The cast of this great mini-series is top-notch. Derek Jacobi does a fantastic job as Claudius. A man whose weaker points don’t withhold him from becoming a great leader. Even though it is by a great coincidence that he gets to wear the Caesar robe. Claudius’ rulership follows the horrible reigns of Tiberius (fine performance from George Baker) and the insane emperor Caligula. The poisonous Livia is portrayed by Siân Phillips, whose evil schemes are a joy to behold. John Hurt gives a terrifying performance as Caligula whose very presence is constantly threatening to Claudius and others. By pursuing his mad ideas and his obvious fondness for sadism and incest (he marries his sister Drusilla), he makes an even scarier villain than Livia. There are also early performances from Patrick Stewart and John Rhys-Davies amongst others.

There is quite a lot of violence and sexual content in this series although not everything is explicitly shown. Still for a television production from the seventies, it is quite shocking. There was obviously no budget for grand settings a la Spartacus and much of the series plays indoors. Still all the sets look beautiful and give the series something theatrical.

To this day, this remains one of finest mini-series ever made. And I love it even more for inspiring The Sopranos, my all-time favourite show. I, Claudius is a definite must-see to those who enjoy historic drama, intriguing plots and superb acting.

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5 Must See TV-shows Before You Die

By Jeppe Kleyngeld

In this age of distraction a.k.a. entertainment, a lack of time is always a factor. There are way too many great TV-shows out there to see them all, so which ones should you pick? Many are great to watch, but which ones are truly essential and epic? I assassinated my darlings and wrote down the absolute best. Before you die, you should definitely see these shows in their entirety. I calculated this will take you about 13.263 minutes of your life (or 221 hours). Trust me, it is worth every second.

1. The Sopranos
5 TV Shows - The Sopranos
The greatest drama series of all time about a small Mafia family in modern New Jersey. While ‘The Godfather’ shows the highest level of the mob hierarchy, and ‘GoodFellas’ shows us the everyday life of street level wiseguys, ‘The Sopranos’ has the psyche of the mobster as a central theme. Brilliantly complex, layered and beyond entertaining, ‘The Sopranos’ is the best thing to ever hit the small screen. With writing and a cast you can only dream off, led by the now legendary James Gandolfini, may he rest in peace.

2. Breaking Bad
5 TV Shows - Breaking Bad
A chemistry teacher with lung cancer steadily transforms into a crystal meth kingpin… and ruthless murderer. This philosophically charged odyssey through the dark corners of the human mind is an unforgettably tense and emotional rollercoaster ride. One of the rare series that is consistently brilliant throughout its running time. Absolutely unmissable.

3. I, Claudius
5 TV Shows - I, Claudius Snake
BBC-adaptation of Robert Graves novels’ about the reign of four Roman emperors: the mighty Augustus, the bloodthirsty Tiberius, the insane Caligula, and finally the wise Claudius who lived through all periods and serves as the navigator/protagonist of the mini-series. ‘I, Claudius’ is dialogue heavy and is almost completely filmed in the studio, but… the dialogues and acting are to kill for. Watching ‘I, Claudius’ is like having front row tickets for the greatest theatre in the world. Every minute you are longing for more and can’t wait to find out what will happen next. An immortal classic.

4. The Wire
5 TV Shows - The Wire
The major problems of an American city (Baltimore) experienced through all corners of society: drug dealers, police, politicians, school staff, high school kids, junkies, dock workers and media men. David Simon’s reinvention of the cop genre is a prime example of superior storytelling that – despite of all the street legends – always feel authentic and above all… human. It’s all in the game, yo.

5. Twin Peaks
5 TV Shows - Twin Peaks
David Lynch, in collaboration with writer/producer Mark Frost, captured the imagination of audiences worldwide with one of the most legendary television series to emerge in the nineties: ‘Twin Peaks’. What starts as a slightly offbeat whodunit, evolves into a complex and superbly intriguing mystery thriller. ‘Who murdered the high school beauty queen Laura Palmer?’, is the original premise. But with all sorts of supernatural stuff going on, new and bigger questions arise, such as: ‘what is the Black Lodge?’. The plot in ‘Twin Peaks’ often takes a backseat to just let the many bizarre characters interact with each other. The show often feels like a platform for all the crazy ideas that Lynch, Frost and other collaborators could come up with.

What makes the final result so great is the seamless integration of genres. With delicious black humour and countless fantasy elements such as dwarves, giants, aliens and demons, the viewer will get hooked in no time. It is constantly absorbing, even during long stretches in which basically nothing significant happens. ‘Twin Peaks’ is an endlessly fascinating show that took dramatic television into an entirely new realm.

And good news for the fans. In 1991 when the show aired, Laura Palmer made a creepy prediction:

5 TV Shows - Twin Peaks 2

So that means that in 2016? Yes, it does. ‘Twin Peaks’ will return.