Odd Ramblings, More about the "I, CLAVDIVS" Phenomena,
Some Trivia, & How Mass Murder & Incest is Fun.
Thank you for indulging us.
Combine two books about Roman history with a high-quality BBC production, and you get this remarkable 13 episode series. Based on the novels by Robert Graves (and adapted for this screen version by Jack Pulman), the BBC production first aired in 1976 and was shown in America on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. As for the actors, well, by Jove, it seems that just about every English actor who was around in the '70s is in it. And they are all truly amazing in this.
We (Bat & Kallisti) have both long been fervent admirers of this series, considering it to be one of the absolutely best things to have ever been on television.
Bat first saw it when it ran in the '70s while she was in the midst of her murky adolescence. You know, one of those "impressionable" times in life. (This explains a few things.) Kallisti, likewise, saw it first in the early 80's as she blossomed into ripe adolescence, and gleaned therefrom many an example of how to frighten one's mother. (This also explains a few things.)
Anyway, more recently, the subject of Roman history came up in conversation (really, it did . . . .), and we both admitted that we had been indelibly branded by the series and that neither of us could bear to hear about Roman history without conjuring up the cast of "I, Claudius." Burbling with enthusiasm, we realized to our alarm and amazement that it had been "ages since I've seen it .... etc., etc."
And so, the die, as they say, was cast.
We assembled food and wine befitting the occasion -- things like olives, bread, figs, prosciutto (epicurean tip: try wrapping a little prosciutto around a fig -- trust me!), Italian cheese, mushrooms. Settling in with our little banquet and wine, we hadn't started out to make this a drinking game, but into the first episode, we became so animated at the first sight of Augustus bellowing and Livia making remarks like "I prepared all his food myself" that we began to toast every nefarious event that tickled our sick fancy. We were doomed. 'Ere before we made it through the first episode, we'd already decided on all the devious little parts that should be toasted and our little drinking game was born (as we have an inherent need to institutionalize everything we do).
If you have never seen this series, we hope you have gathered from this that we emphatically recommend it. Although this production of "I, Claudius" is said to be pretty much historically accurate and is a serious and intelligent work, it is also wickedly funny in parts. This isn't to say it's one of those works which was meant to be serious but turns out funny or campy by accident. The humor is deliberate and played out by the actors with delicious wit and/or subtlety.
"If the Romans were British"
Some of the humor stems from its very Britishness -- with British in-jokes (even some of us Americans understood them, too) and that sort of dry humor intrinsic to English Wit. This drollness deftly offsets all the disturbing goings-on -- the sheer avalanche of violence, scandal, cruelty, plotting, and harshness of the Classic Roman world. In reality ancient Rome probably wasn't a place you'd want to live, but "I, Claudius" is a great place to visit.
Oh, by the way, some trivia: Apparently, Robert Graves wanted to name his story about the Claudian Emperors "Not My Head!" but his publisher quashed this bit of morbid wit. The televised series, however, resurrects the "Not my head!!!!" phrase in a very memorable scene (at which point we nearly downed an entire bottle) -- doubtless as tribute to Robert Graves.
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