Ciara’s Top 5 TV Shows: #1 – I, CLAUDIUS

I, Claudius

I believe I was fifteen when I discovered this gem. When asked to do this list, I did not even have to make the choice. My favourite television series of all time was easy pickings. Let me put it this way: do you like horrible history, delectable characters, violence, sex, deviousness, romance, tragedy, comedy, epic tales of betrayals and power? If your answer is no, then go back to the abyss from whence you came! If you answered yes, then you too would love I, CLAUDIUS.

I, Claudius is a slightly fictionalized account of the history of Rome, from the death of Marcellus to the death of Claudius. It is narrated by Claudius, from his birth to his death. Mistakenly believed to be mentally retarded because he is a cripple with a severe stutter (I speculate whether he has cerebral palsy) he is able to eavesdrop and, in truth, survive, thanks to his relations’ ignorance of his intelligence. Wonderfully played by Derek Jacobi, Claudius is sweet and cruel, a victim, an observer, an intellectual, a dry wit, a fiend, a coward, a courageous man and a survivor. Lastly, and most importantly, he is a biographer and our narrator. He begins this wonderful series just as he is about to die.

This is a fictional account of the history of Rome. If you watch this series, then see the HBO show Rome, you may understand why I deplore the latter. It’s like trying to remake a perfect movie but just updating it with a bigger budget and throwing on a different title coughLetTheRightOneIncough.

I’m sorry. I had a Swedish vampire movie lodged in my throat. Where was I?

Ah yes, fictional account. I do not mean that now Julia the Elder met a serving man called Romeo and eloped, escaping the horrible future in store for her. I mean that history, thank you learned gentlemen, has no room for women or convenient tape recording of conversations between Caligula and Suetonius. Basically, Livy’s bullet points are merely expanded upon and dramatized. This was a BBC production, based on the eponymous novel by Robert Graves. Made in 1976, long before CGI, the sets are actually better and less distracting than the preposterously fake effects on shows like Spartacus: Blood and Sand or even the Oscar winning film Gladiator.

The acting is wonderful, particularly Sian Philips’ Livia, who makes Patty Hewes look like a clever wee bunny wunny. Livia is the very definition of ‘cruel bitch’ and she is what all villainesses should look up to in awe as they practice their sneers and arch their evil eyebrows.

Later we step into what seems like a Stanley Kubrick film when Caligula becomes Emperor, and the insanity that ensues-including trying to recreate the mythological birth of Zeus, and the less I say on that the quicker my stomach will settle-would make Sarah Kane shudder. But don’t worry, relax. After Caligula comes Atticus Finch. Oh, no, I’m sorry. After Caligula comes Nero.

The wonderful thing about Roman history is that you really do not have to make this stuff up. You just have to have the writers to hash out the plots, write interesting and exciting dialogue and situations, create some drama and comedy (the humour is…well, it’s like nothing else) and of course have the actors with enough charisma and ability to carry out the roles. I, Claudius has all of this in abundance.

Watch it. I, Claudius is my favourite television series of all time. It’s simply marvellous.

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