I was deep into watching a borrowed DVD of I, Claudius when I saw that Acorn Media Group was releasing a new re-mastered edition: I, Claudius: 35th Anniversary Edition.
With much delight, I started the series all over again.
The celebrated mini-series was originally broadcast in 1976 on BBC Television. Adapted by Jack Pulman from Robert Graves’s historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God, this new edition is far superior to the 2000 DVD I had been watching.
Even though Acorn clearly states that “Due to the age of these programs and the improved resolution that DVD provides, you may notice occasional flaws in the image and audio on this DVD presentation that were beyond our ability to correct from the original materials”, there is a significant, sharper image on I, Claudius: 35th Anniversary Edition. I could not notice any glaring audio problems.
If you are fans of HBO’s ROME (2005) or STARZ’s SPARTACUS (season 2 is currently airing), I, Claudius is historical debauchery with a terrific cast. Since it is a television mini-series, the large cast of characters is expertly fleshed out. Old Claudius (Derek Jacobi), Emperor of Rome, is working on a history of his family. And what a fantastic family it was! Every member of Claudius’s family lived only to lust after power, even if it meant manipulation, deception and murder.
I, Claudius is dominated by Claudius’s grandmother Livia (Siân Phillips), the third wife of Emperor Augustus (Brian Blessed). She is a conniving, merciless enemy to everyone but her son Tiberius (George Baker). But even he is subjected to the iron hand will of his mother. Augustus needs to groom an heir as his successor and has chosen his son-in-law. Livia is furious and brilliantly plots to remove every obstacle – and there are many – that present itself to having her son named emperor. Tiberius does not even want to be emperor.
Livia, (Phillips is mesmerizing) uses murder and blackmail with a chess master’s skill. Phillips is flawless.
Livia is cruelly dismissive of Claudius. He has a terrible stutter, limbs, and drools. He is ignored by everyone as an idiot. He has a front row seat to all that transpires in his highly dysfunctional family. No one considers him a threat.
Derek Jacobi is phenomenal. The role of Claudius is difficult. Not only does Jacobi go from a young man to an old man, he must stutter, limp, and straddle the line between acting the idiot and that of a brilliant observer. We all remember Jacobi in GLADIATOR (2000) and his wonderful, rueful portrayal of Gracchus: “I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob.”
What fun it is seeing a very young John Hurt prancing around as the golden-haired, depraved Caligula and a young Patrick Stewart as Sejanus.
The 5-DVD for I, Claudius: 35th Anniversary Edition is a 668-minute production of the 12 episodes on the first four discs, presented in the original full screen video with English audio and English subtitles, plus a fifth disc full of bonus material.
Acorn has also added several bonus features: Extended original versions of episodes 1 (52 min.) and 2 (52 min.); I, Claudius: A Television Epic, a behind-the-scenes look at the series (74 min.); The Epic That Never Was, a documentary recounting the failed 1937 film adaptation is presented in black & white. Dirk Bogarde hosts a 1967 BBC documentary about the Alexander Korda/Josef von Sternberg 1937 movie of I, Claudius that was eventually abandoned. The piece is well over an hour and intercuts footage from the movie with clips of Robert Graves talking about his book (71 min.); a new Derek Jacobi interview (12 min.); favorite scenes of the cast and director (36 min.); and a booklet with an article by Jennifer Coggins about the series’ historical accuracy and, important in this large cast of characters, an abridged genealogical chart of the emperors from August to Nero.
I, Claudius: 35th Anniversary Edition from Acorn Media Group has a suggested retail price of $59.99. It contains violence, nudity, and sexual content. Select series are available for streaming at Acorn TV at http://acornonline.com/TV .
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