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I Claudius/The Epic That Never Was

Derek Jacobi , John Hurt , Herbert Wise    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
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Product Description

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This superbly acted, mordantly funny romp through 70 years or so of Roman history is one of the best-loved miniseries ever made, and deservedly so. Derek Jacobi plays Roman Emperor Claudius, who reflects in old age on his life and his remarkable family, giving us a history lesson that's unlike anything you learned in school.

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 breathtakingly tense scene, the mad Emperor performs a dance in drag, then asks Claudius to critique it, perfectly capturing the horror of a world where one wrong word means death, or worse. Jacobi is the perfect Claudius, hiding his intelligence behind a crippling stammer and shuffling around the edges of events--until he finds himself pulled to the very center. His wry comments give shape to the tangled story of his family and help the audience make sense of a dauntingly complex cast of characters.

I, Claudius might seem a little studio-bound to viewers brought up on more recent big-budget costume dramas, but the topnotch cast and the incident-filled plot are more than enough to hold the attention through almost 11 hours of gripping, deliciously wicked Roman follies. This boxed set also includes a documentary entitled "The Epic That Never Was," about Alexander Korda's failed attempt to film I, Claudius in 1937. The film, directed by Josef von Sternberg and starring Charles Laughton as Claudius and Merle Oberon as Messalina, was abandoned unfinished, and it remains one of Hollywood's great lost movies. --Simon Leake

Product Description

Roman history comes alive in this magnificent 13-part series. I, Claudius ranks among the most acclaimed productions in television history. Tracing the lives of the last of the Roman emperors, it's an epic of ruthless ambition, shocking debauchery and murderous intrigue set in one of history's most fascinating eras. Bearing witness to the saga is Claudius, whose stutter and limp have marked him a fool--yet whom prophesies have foretold will one day rule Rome.

This collector's edition set includes a unique documentary feature, The Epic That Never Was (1965, 71 min.), a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at Alexander Korda's ill-fated 1937 screen adaptation of I, Claudius. Starring Merle Oberon and Charles Laughton, the chronicle of this uncompleted masterpieces is an unforgettable coda to one of the greatest stories ever told.


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:VHS Tape
"I, Claudius" is, quite simply, a masterpiece of acting, of writing, and of what television can do like no other medium.
Clocking in at eleven hours, "I, Claudius" rips the curtain back from Imperial Rome and shows the savagery, the venality, the evil, and yes, the goodness at work in the court during the early days of Imperial Rome. Tracking a story over several decades, "I, Claudius" tells an epic story of murder, deceit, seduction, and justice that is simultaneously grand and intimate -- the story is simply too grand a scale to be made into a feature film (well, with the caveat that if Peter Jackson can film the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, he can film any epic out there).
Narrated by an aged Emperor Claudius (Derek Jacobi, in a career-making performance), "I, Claudius" starts with the reign of Caesar Augustus (Brian Blessed, delightfully Machiavellian) and his vicious wife, Livia (Sian Phillips, almost stealing the show). Augustus, reluctant to drive a stake through the heart of the Roman Republic, nevertheless seeks to consolidate his power; Livia is fully committed to burying the Republic forever and seating her reluctant son, Tiberius (George Baker) on the throne. Through seduction, wily craft, and generous doses of poison, Livia gets her way. Her parting scene with Augustus is a masterpiece of acting on both sides.
As an aside, the acting in "I, Claudius" more than makes up for an obviously limited budget and virtually no special effects . . . it's like watching a televised play. On-screen violence is nevertheless convincing, and the entire cast hits each precious note with skill. Watch for a young, bewigged(!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Matchless drama, and picture quality is just fine March 9 2004
Format:DVD
As for praise, I can't add anything to the many compliments given by others for every aspect of this production. Simply amazing.
I simply had to add a comment about picture quality, which one review complained was not as good as a copy of the original VHS tapes. I've seen the VHS tape version. This DVD release surely is no worse. The source material was perhaps softened a bit too much to lessen video noise on the original. In other words, the focus looks a bit soft. Other than that, there is nothing wrong with the picture quality.
I've seen other video material from this era transferred to DVD, and this is about the best that can be expected. We watched the entire series on DVD with no complaints. I was very happy. You will be too, as you are drawn into this story, brought alive with consummate skill and passion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Performances/Awful Sound July 23 2002
Format:DVD
This is an acting tour de force especially the performance of Siân Phillips who is absolutely brilliant. Unfortunately the picture is not very brilliant, nor is the sound, which is awful. I had to pump the sound level on the TV to the top level and turn on the stereo speakers and I still couldn't hear what they were saying at times. However, performances like these come along very rarely, especially today. I doubt you will see this kind of greatness on American TV again. Luckily they restored the original opening with the African dance. It had been cut for US audiences when originally presented in prudish American. I do wonder though if the scene where Claudius opens the door on Drucilla, after Caligula had eaten her baby, showed the horror of what he had just done. It seems to me that there is an abrupt cut in the scene as if we were meant to look inside the door but a censor decided we shouldn't see what was there. That has always bothered me!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rent it, don't buy it. Aug. 12 2003
Format:DVD
The five stars are for the programme itself - I completely endorse the positive comments other writers have made concerning the series and the actors - but I would give only one star for the technical quality. I also have the recently released Australian DVDs and they are no better. As with all BBC programmes there has been no effort to digitally clean up the image, and as for the sound! It simply isn't good enough. These are expensive DVDs and to produce such rubbish is just customer contempt on the part of the manufacturers. My advise: rent it and enjoy, but save your money until someone produces a DVD of quality worthy of the series and the actors therein.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Multi-Layered Awesome Jan. 8 2011
Format:DVD
Wow. I wish I was a better writer to describe how awesome this series is.
This is one of Jacobi's best performances EVER.

Only thing I'd say against it: it was filmed in the 70's so it's a bit dated. However,
I did buy this edition and the remastering is kick butt compared to the previous DVD set, I had
it too.

It's a who's-who of British stars. Sian Phillips is another absolute treasure in this series!

And yes, Patrick Stewart is great. It's wild to see him with hair.

Give it a try. I can't say enough. This series is be under "Awesome" in the dictionary.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:DVD
I bought the DVD boxed set fully aware that this was a 24 year old made-for-TV production. I was therefore expecting perhaps a "flat" look with mono sound and muted colours.
What I didn't expect was that image-entertainment/CBS would (apparently) cut the DVD from a bad second(+) generation video tape - rather than the presumably superior BBC master.
The sound is muffled and the picture has noticeable ghosting. There are no sub-titles so the DVD has to be viewed with the sound on full blast. To be fair to IE/CBS this was true when I watched the series on BBC TV on its first broadcast.
Given the (unfortunately) limited market for quality drama in the US I wouldn't expect the full George Lucas treatment. However, why could not IE/CBS (a) get hold of a better master; (b) spend a little money on cleaning up the soundtrack/image; (c) provide sub-titles?
Buy it anyway because you'll forget the technical limitations within minutes as you become totally absorbed in this wonderful drama.
I note that "The 6 Wives of Henry VIII" (which I intend to purchase) is distributed by "BFS". I hope they've done a better job than IE/CBS and that they will be releasing "Elizabeth R" when the time comes.
Amazon should have separate content/technical ratings for DVDs.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A must see dvd set.
In my opinion this series is a superb example of a relatively low budget production that is wonderfully written and acted. Read more
Published on April 21 2011 by sedgewick
5.0 out of 5 stars I CLAUDIUS
Excellent service from Amazon. I Claudius is one of the best TV series (BBC/PBS) of all time with its exceptional acting and superbly written script. Read more
Published on May 8 2010 by DRUSUS
5.0 out of 5 stars Great series ... poor quality DVD
I've been a fan of this series for over 20 years. I finally bought the collection. I was so excited! Unfortunately the DVD's skip and freeze like crazy. Read more
Published on April 23 2008 by Gigi Boate
4.0 out of 5 stars Claudius for Prime Minister
I so wanted to give this set 5 stars but I just couldn't. I Claudius is just way too dated and unsuspecting viewers might be put off by really poor production values. Read more
Published on Sept. 7 2006 by Dave and Joe
5.0 out of 5 stars FAR MORE ENTERTAINING THAN HBO'S "ROME"
I watched "I, Claudius" over a week in July and found it thoroughly engrossing. Now, two months later I have just finished watching HBO's "Rome" on dvd. Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2006 by Brad
5.0 out of 5 stars as good as it gets
soundfactorync1 is getting bit pedantic here. What history has he been reading? The main sources are Tacitus and Suetonius. Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2006 by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars tedious and boring
first i must explain that i am a longtime student of roman history and the julio-claudinians in particular. Read more
Published on May 29 2004 by Cameron Boahn
5.0 out of 5 stars Great drama
I remember seeing this series on TV many, many years ago when I was still in high school. And was very happy to find it on DVD now. The DVD transfer is very good too. Read more
Published on April 6 2004 by onlyme1234
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the Greatest Series of All Time....
...but I have to give it only four stars because of its stunningly poor transfer to DVD. If you can imagine taping the series off the air with a VHS recorder and then taping the... Read more
Published on March 7 2004 by Confederate
5.0 out of 5 stars In a league of its own
This is a fantastic miniseries. Some people may be put off by the low-budget look, but this really doesn't matter. I won't repeat the praise that's been said before - it's true. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2004 by Anne
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