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DVD Review: I, Claudius

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In I, Claudius the ghosts of the past, memories, and the living haunt the crippled main character as he surveys the ruins of Augustus’ Roman Empire all around him. Claudius finds that sometimes those ghosts are of the living as well who just aren’t yet aware that they are dead.

Based on novels by Robert Graves, the acclaimed 1976 mini-series made Derek Jacobi a star with his portrayal of Claudius. An amateur historian before he ultimately becomes the unwilling emperor of the Roman Empire, Claudius chronicles the gradual decline of the Empire as reflected in the reign of Augustus (Brian Blessed) and his manipulation of  by Claudius’ grandmother Livia (Siân Phillips) to make Tiberius (George Baker) ruling heir.

Acorn Media has reissued I, Claudius in the United States from the original U.K. videotape restoring 10 minutes to the first two episodes, which had been edited for U.S. broadcast.

The look of the series betrays the lower resolution of analog videotape at the time. Audio is in crystal clear mono with subtitles.

The extras here are quite good. We get The Epic That Never Was a documentary produced for the BBC in the ’60s about the abandoned 1939 Alexander Korda production of I, Claudius that was to star Charles Laughton. The documentary hosted by the late Dirk Bogart.

We also get a 75-minute retrospective documentary that features new interviews with the cast and crew discussing the challenge of turning Graves’ work into a drama.

We also get a 10-minute interview with actor Derek Jacobi and a booklet that gives us a family tree and compares fact to fiction.

Although hampered by budget constraints and the fact that the series was shot on videotape, I, Claudius remains a potent and entertaining drama 35 years later. The restored version of the first two episodes as well as the new retrospective documentary make this essential for fans of the series.

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