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I, David, Recommend New DVD of ‘I, Claudius’
April 25, 2012  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment
 


Thirty-five years ago, PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre imported a brilliant BBC miniseries about a family so twisted, it makes The Borgias and The Sopranos look like The Waltons. And now, reissued in a lavish new DVD set, I,Claudius still amazes…
 
Derek Jacobi became a star because of his title role here, as the stuttering, limping, cowering outcast of the Roman empire who ended up not only surviving, but ruling. Poor Claudius outlasts not only his cringingly cruel grandmother Livia (Sian Phillips), but the ultimately mad Caligula (John Hurt), who declares himself a god. Other players in this 1976 British production, seen in the U.S. a year later to great acclaim, include Patrick Stewart, years before he took the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Poor Claudius grew up surrounded by terrorists – or, at least, relatives who delighted in terrorizing him for his physical deformities and verbal stammers.

“If that head of yours doesn’t stop twitching,” Livia tells her wide-eyed, slightly spasmodic grandson, “I’ll have it cut off and stuck on a pole. That’ll fix it.”

Claudius’ frightened, protectively passive reply: “Th-th-thank you, grandmother.”

And so he survives, to live another day, and to make one shrewd move after another to protect himself by avoiding conflict whenever possible, and talking his way out when cornered. Though he speaks with a stutter, Claudius always seems to say just the right thing to avoid the capricious wrath of those around him. But only barely.

It’s a wonderful drama, presented anew in a beautifully transferred and packaged five-disc set from Acorn Media.

The set is worth the price for the final disc alone, because it includes the 1967 documentary called The Epic That Never Was, about the aborted I, Claudius movie filmed partially, then abandoned, by director Josef von Sternberg, and starring the astounding Charles Laughton.

That unfinished film, dating all the way back to 1937, is a marvel – better, even, than the miniseries version made decades later. Having the two together, in one set, is the TV lover’s version of a Roman orgy.

Wednesday on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I’m scheduled to present a review of this boxed set, where you can hear samples from both the TV and “lost” movie versions of I, Claudius.  After about 5 p.m. ET, you can read and hear my review on the Fresh Air website by clicking HERE.
 
And to purchase I, Claudius, click HERE.

You’ll be glad you did.
 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
I adored I, Claudius and bought an early DVD set of it. One of the best mini-series ever. An incredible cast of superb British actors and it was my first exposure to most of them (except for Sian Phillips, whom I'd seen in a few movies). Thanks for giving it a mention (though I have to say, I loved Roots as well).
Apr 25, 2012   |  Reply
 
David Bianculli
And thanks, Laurie, for using "whom," and properly. Damn, I love our readers! Good taste AND good grammar!
Apr 26, 2012
 
 
 
 
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