Thursday, 2 July 2009

I, Claudius: What Shall We Do About Claudius?


We open with Old!Claudius melting into Young!Claudius, who has been banished to a couch hidden away against the wall so none of his family have to look at him. We are reintroduced the now grown-up children and informed that Postumus and Germanicus are Good and Livilla is Bad, and apparently the fact that Postumus fancies the pants off another man's wife is All Her Fault for flirting.

The boring poet they were listening to turns out to be Horace! Augustus explains how much better Horace is than Ovid, though he doesn't mention Julia, so we're presumably not going with that theory (or maybe he just doesn't want to talk about it). The old age make up on Livia and Augustus is a bit interesting... Livilla is a brilliant mini-Livia, and just as eeeeevil, though a bit less subtle.

Just as Augustus is going to bed, news comes of a terrible disaster in the Teutoberg forest, complete with bloody, muddy messenger. Postumus has gone off to make hot naked love with Livilla, so Germanicus and Tiberius alone have to discuss tactics with Augustus.

We break away from all this drama to visit Claudius in the library, in a scene sure to make ancient historians giddy and bore the pants off everyone else. Claudius bumps into Livy and Pollio - as you do - and discusses the relative merits of the two, while historians of the early Empire writhe in envy at the idea of someone actually being able to read Pollio (whose work has mostly been lost). I do like the bit where Claudius keeps correcting Livy though - serves him right. Pollio becomes the latest person to suggest that Augustus' relatives do not keep dying of natural causes, and gives Claudius some survival tips, suggesting that he exaggerate his foolishness in the interests of long term survival.

Postumus' wife has apparently complained to Augustus that Postumus isn't sleeping with her often enough. Is that really something you take to the leader of most of the known world? On the other hand, maybe its a good idea - if anyone can bully a man into sleeping with his wife, it's him. Livia overhears Augustus telling Postumus that *he* will be his successor, not Tiberius - so that's pretty much it for Postumus. Livia blackmails Livilla into betraying him, and Livilla has a vested interest anyway, since it's her father-in-law Livia is propelling towards the throne.

Augustus is muttering to himself like a madman, convinced Tiberius is messing him around, and we are treated to repeated shouts of 'QUINTILIUS VARUS! WHERE ARE MY EAGLES???!!!!' This line is yelled the way only BRIAN BLESSED can yell. (The 'Eagles' were the standards of the legions, so their loss represents the loss of a legion and was a PR disaster).

Claudius attends his first Games in the imperial box (having helped to pay for them) and faints - this is a bit odd, since the Emperor Claudius was known to have really rather enjoyed the Games - more than was strictly seemly. However, there are many years in between this scene and him becoming emperor, so maybe he got used to it. We see Herod Agrippa again and he's grown up rather well - yum. Livilla thoroughly enjoys the Games - because she's Bad, you see. Livia's speech to the gladiators about how she wants to see lots of death and mayhem and no dirty tricks in an effort to stay alive is also rather fun.

Livilla sets Postumus up, accuses him of attempted rape, and has him banished. Postumus finds time, on his way out, to give his guards the slip, tell Claudius what really happened, blame Livia and ask Claudius to tell Germanicus when he gets back from recovering the lost Eagles.

The episode ends with Claudius' first wedding, to the fabulously named Urgulanilla, at which everyone erupts into peals of cruel laughter because she is rather a lot taller than him. She doesn't look impressed, which doesn't bode well.

Augustus is terribly vexed

This episode still feels like it's treading water a bit, perhaps hampered by the BBC budget that doesn't allow it to actually show any of the action in the Teutoberg forest. I'm not that into action myself, but when our heroes spend half the episode talking about a war, it's a shame not to see any of it. Of the new cast members, only John Castle as Postumus and Patricia Quinn as Livilla really get to shine. John Castle is very good and succeeds in making Postumus both immensly likeable (and reasonably attractive) and yet believable as an adulturous drunkard (to see him really let his sinister side out, see The Lion in Winter. In fact, just go watch The Lion in Winter, coz it's fab). Patricia Quinn is perhaps a bit too much literally Livia Jr (as her name suggests) but with a higher sex drive, but the eeeevil acting is quite effective, especially when she looks like she's taking an almost sexual pleasure during the sequence in the amphitheatre. No one else really has much new to do - Claudius limps, BLESSED YELLS, Livia schemes, Tiberius does his best impression of Oscar the Grouch. Business as usual, really. Things are set to pick in the next episode though - a change is gonna come...

1 comment:

  1. Not entirely relevant to your post, but this September is the 2000th anniversary of the Varus disaster. Lots of special events going on in Germany, especially at Kalkriese.

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