I, Claudius – 35th Anniversary Edition

I, Claudius – 35th Anniversary Edition
Period drama is one thing that British television does really well. From the current flavour of the month, Downtown Abbey, to classic series The Forsyte Saga, there's an impressively long list of shows that have stood the test of time. And near the top is I, Claudius. First shown back in 1976, and based on the novel of the same name, I, Claudius is the tale of both the rise and fall of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty in Ancient Rome, told from the perspective of the titular character looking back on his life. Claudius is played by Derek Jacobi, in the role that helped define his career. His sympathetic take on the accidental emperor is an absolute delight and no matter which devious acts he's entwined in, it's tough not to feel sympathy for the stammering, twitchy Claudius. He's definitely never been any better than this. One stellar performance like Jacobi's would be enough to recommend this, but the rest of the cast are equally wonderful. Many of them were quite unknown at this point of their careers, so to see the likes of Patrick Stewart, Brian Blessed and John Hurt before they were famous is entertaining. But the other scene-stealer is Siân Phillips, who is magnificent as master manipulator Livia, Claudius's grandmother. Like many BBC series of the period, I, Claudius takes its time to develop the story. With 12 episodes, there's no attempt to speed through the story and with a large number of characters to keep track of, it can be a touch confusing, at times. Similarly, the dialogue can also be too rich, falling short of Shakespearean standards, but viewers do need to stay committed during the 11-hour running time. It's well worth persevering and any fans of HBO's Rome will definitely enjoy this less sensationalistic take on the period. The show looks as good as any 35-year-old television program can; it is relatively clean throughout, with only a few moments where the lack of lighting makes things look grainy. The set includes a fifth DVD, which holds all the extras, the most notable of which is a substantial behind-the-scenes documentary that has interviews with most of the major players. There is also an extended interview with Derek Jacobi and a compilation of the cast's favourite scenes. Finally, there is a 71-minute documentary from 1965 about the failed attempt to make a movie version of I, Claudius back in 1937 with Charles Laughton. (Acorn)