based on the novel by Robert Graves
A BBC Radio 4 full cast production starring Tom Goodman Hill as Claudius and, Derek Jacobi as Augustus
Ⓟ 2011, AudioGo, Ltd
5.8 hours (12 episodes @ ≈30 minutes each)
Every culture has its Golden Age and Ancient Rome was no different. The monarchy was overthrown by the Republic (see Julius Caesar) and eventually the empire was manifestly consolidated under the reign of Augustus (31 B.C. - 14 A.D.) Augustus' reign as caesar inaugurated the Pax Romana, and ironically, his death would signal an epic struggle for power amongst his family. The political landscape for which successive caesars fought was divided into two allegiances: those who held to Republican ideals (Senate, check and balances, plebeian representation) versus the the imperial dictates of leaders who then often became gods post-mortem. By the time of Augustus' death, the ideals of the Republic were part of a Golden Age, fondly remembered and nominally respected but with no political traction against the immense power the caesars came to wield.
I, Claudius chronicles the history of Rome's caesars from the waning days of Augustus to the last moments of Claudius' reign - all told principally through Claudius' point of view à la the meta literary device of having Claudius narrate his own autobiography. The time frame covered, roughly 10 B.C. to 54 A.D, covers the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and, Claudius himself, with Nero waiting in the wings. The rise and fall of each of the caesars is the product of massive and insidious court intrigue, manipulation and assassinations.
The BBC 4 Radio production has very high production values and talent with the result that the listener feels as if s/he is actually bearing witness to history. The foley effects are expertly applied and mental visualization of the action is made easy. Each of the actors performs their role with distinction so that there is never any question as to who is speaking or what is going on. Claudius, famous for his stutter, is played by Tom Goodman Hill who plays the speech impediment strongly at the beginning and then tempers it somewhat as the narrative continues, reflecting Claudius' own progress against the stammer. In moments of high anxiety, the stammer returns and, countered by the strong assertive voices of the other actors, reminds the listener that Claudius was never the fearsome, intimidating god-in-the-making; but rather an intelligent scholar and statesman who survived the machinations of Livia, his ambitious stepmother, by flying under the radar. BBC 4 attached Derek Jacobi's name to this production in the promotions, capitalizing on his reputation in the title role in the BBC television series nearly forty years ago. But Jacobi does not reprise his role in I, Claudius. This time he plays the role of the older, esteemed Augustus. It is a sleight of hand that cheats Tom Goodman Hill of due notice; but the production is none the worse for it. I, Claudius is a well produced, well performed audio drama that brings Robert Graves' esteemed novel to life.
In the U.S., people often refer to the 1950s as a Golden Age: High standard of living and low crime rate. And yet, racism, sexism and homophobia, not to mention McCarthyism and fears of atomic war were prevalent. Do you think Mid-Century America was a Golden Age?
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