Thursday, May 29, 2003

The dim dark ages

Where did that photo of Patrick Stewart with hair come from? Well, when he was much younger - twenty five years ago, in fact - he was in the BBC's adaptation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius - a historical drama covering the life of the Julio-Claudian emperors, from Augustus to Claudius. I'm watching it on DVD at the moment, though since it's over ten hours, there's a lot to wade through. So far I'm only up to the death of Augustus, so there's a long way to go yet.

The weird bit is seeing famous British actors when they were young, or in roles that are completely different from their stereotype, or with hair. Claudius is played by Derek Jacobi (probably better known to people as Brother Cadfael), and he just looks weird when he's young. Brian Blessed plays Augustus, and he's a damn sight less psychopathic than when he was King Richard IV in the original series of Blackadder. And who is Patrick Stewart? Lucius Aelius Sejanus... he's not bad as the silent psycho, but I'm waiting for a few more episodes to see if he can really carry off the air of menace I expect.

It's also weird seeing how they made television back in 1976. It comes across very stilted, as if they're filming traditional theatre.

Anyway, I've actually studied the period in question, and this seems to be pretty historically accurate. The central conceit is that Claudius - widely reported by contemporary sources as being a club-footed twitching imbecile - was playing the fool to avoid being dragged into his family's deadly politics. And given that he also wrote several books and wasn't such an idiot as Emperor (and in fact was smart enough to try and avoid being Emperor in the first place; he was dragged to the throne from his hiding place at the back of the library by the Praetorian Guard after they'd topped Caligula), this isn't exactly unsupported. The most notable flaw so far is that Augustus is cast as a putz - he's totally ignorant of his wife's part in setting up and murdering all his potential successors. I find this difficult to believe, but at least it makes things easy for the audiance (and gives them someone to hate - Livia is a spectacularly evil bitch :)

Next stop: the reign of Tiberius. I expect I'll be strongly opinionated about that, given that Tiberius is one of my favourite Emperors.