The story follows the ancient Emperor Claudius's memoirs about his highly disfunctional family through the years from his birth to his near death. This is the time of the Emperors Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula - intense, brutal and treacherous, and yet at times genuinely funny and very sad. The sets seem primitive, and yet we are so drawn into the drama and intrigue of the characters that this is forgotten in a moment. This is absolutely fantastic drama - in my opinion nothing has been made since that can touch it for its sheer power and vibrancy.
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The story begins in 24 B.C. during the reign of Augustus Caesar, Rome's first emperor, and ends in A.D. 54 with Nero on the throne. In between, I, Claudius details the scheming, murder, madness, and lust that passed for politics in the early years of the Pax Romana. The biggest worm in the Roman apple is Augustus's wife, Livia (the superb Siân Phillips), whose single-minded pursuit of power shapes the destiny of the Empire. With a carefully planted rumor here and a poisoned fig there, she gradually maneuvers her son, Tiberius, toward the throne, creating an atmosphere of suspicion and treachery that starts Rome on its helter-skelter slide into bloody chaos. Phillips somehow makes us understand this extraordinarily wicked woman. As she ages and her carefully wrought webs begin to unravel, it becomes clear that Livia has been as thoroughly poisoned by her own ambition as her victims were by her carefully prepared meals.
Further acting honors go to George Baker as Tiberius, who resists but eventually succumbs to the destiny forced upon him by his mother, and to John Hurt as a hilarious and absolutely terrifying Caligula. In one ...