If you are indoors now, and Rome seems so far away, you may want to spend the week in the company of I, Claudius instead. For many people it is the greatest historical television drama ever made.
Full of adultery, murder, poisoned figs, multiple marriages, madness, orgies, castration and 1970’s costume department togas, it is addictive from the start of the famous theme music. You’ll recognise a younger Patrick Stewart and also a younger Derek Jacobi (made up to take Claudius into advanced old age).
Robert Graves and the Dream
The series came from two books by Robert Graves, who was inspired by a dream. The story is brilliantly retold by Julia Sirmons at Bright Wall, Dark Room:
“One night in the early 1930s, the novelist and classicist Robert Graves was visited in a dream by one of history’s great underdogs: Claudius, fourth emperor of Rome. Claudius was an unlikely emperor; he had several disabilities (a limp, a stutter, and a nervous tic that made his head twitch), and he was far down the line of succession. Many people had to fall out of favor, or die (often violently or suspiciously) for Claudius to sit on the imperial throne.”
Wendy Holden on I, Claudius
Bestselling novelist Wendy Holden, writing in The Holiday Goddess Guide to Paris, London, New York and Rome, commented: “I, Claudius is the ultimate mood-setter for any trip to Rome. Few people, including me, have the classical education required to bring the Forum to any sort of life. For the likes of us, Robert Graves’ book is a crash course in Roman history and one that sticks in the mind infinitely more than guidebooks do. Probably because of all the rude bits…”
Professor Jane Pirkis added, “Like Wendy Holden, my entire knowledge of Roman history came from I, Claudius. Or at least it did until I watched Rome, which dispelled some myths and confirmed some facts for me…” (Professor Pirkis is related to the actor Max Pirkis, who played the young Octavian in Rome).
Watch the Whole Series – Free
All twelve episodes of the BBC classic I, Claudius are on YouTube (1976) posted on Renato Reis’s YouTube channel. (Subtitled).
If you’re at home now and missing Rome (or longing to go one day) it’s hard to go past this drama, reviewed as “Fiendishly sophisticated” by the New York Times and the recipient of an Emmy award in the 1970’s.
Brian Blessed and Sian Phillips
The 2002 BBC documentary about the entire series is here, with interviews featuring Director Herbert Wise. “I was very lucky with the actors I got to play the major roles.” The documentary also profiles Brian Blessed talking about his part as Augustus and Sian Phillips as Livia.
Derek Jacobi and John Hurt
Watch Derek Jacobi’s favourite scene (featuring John Hurt as Caligula) is here. He claims neither of them could get through the script here, without laughing.
You can purchase I, Claudius the audiobook featuring Derek Jacobi, here.
The Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Rome
Purchase The Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Rome here in a Kindle edition, with a Look Inside option.