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In 42 BC Rome is in the middle of a civil war. Together with his friend AGRIPPA, the young Augustus goes to Spain in order to help JULIUS CAESAR in his struggle against the troops of POMPEY. Even though they are outnumbered, they manage to defeat Pompey. Caesar honours his adopted son Augustus with a triumphal entry into Rome and then sends him to Greece together with his friends Agrippa and Maecenas. There, Augustus hears the news of Caesar's assassination and he returns to Rome with his friends. Back in Rome, he is able to gain both the support of the people and political power. In his struggle with the conspirators against Caesar he finds an ally in MARC ANTONY. Marc Antony not only pursues BRUTUS and CASSIUS, he also initiates a wave of executions which practically eliminates the old Roman ruling class. Among those who are killed is the husband of LIVIA DRUSILLA, a woman with whom Augustus had been in love as a young man. Through a combination of good luck and chance, Augustus and... Written by
AUGUSTUS (also known as IMPERIUM: AUGUSTUS) is a film made for television, which could explain how its three and one half hour length would be spread over at least three nights. This movie was made with an obvious plentiful budget, sponsored by the Italian government and US filmmakers, and the result is a complex and nicely detailed biographical study of the first Emperor of Rome, Augustus Caesar, the man whose reign spanned the BC/AD time frame with all the attendant changes in world geography and history and religious orders. It was a time of Rome's greatness and a time of Rome's disintegration.
Writer Eric Lerner and Director Roger Young wisely elected to tell this tale as a series of flashbacks as recalled by the aged, dying Augustus brilliantly portrayed by Peter O'Toole. His very presence gives the project credibility and dignity and helps the viewer forgive any of the many shortcomings that dot this epic. Augustus is attended by his wife Livia (again, a wise choice in casting the always superb Charlotte Rampling to bring this odd woman to life). With some adroit camera superimpositions of the old Augustus' face the story goes back in time to the death of Julius Caesar, the one who appointed the young Augustus (Benjamin Sadler) to be his successor. It is 42 BC and the young Augustus, together with his sidekicks Agrippa (Ken Duken) and Maecenas (Russell Barr in a foppish turn), struggle through the Senate, the noblemen, and the poor people of Rome who all have been ignored during Julius Caesar's infamous wars to expand the Empire. The complicated lineage to the 'throne' of Rome is manipulated by Julia (Vittoria Belvedere), Marc Antony (Massimo Ghini), Tiberius (Michele Bevilacqua) and Iullus (Juan Diego Botto), the son of Marc Antony, among many others.
Along the way we meet Cleopatra (Anne Valle) and Cicero (Gottfried John) and many of the other casually dropped names of Roman history. Though the names and the changes of who is ruling who at any one time can be confusing to even the most astute Roman historian, the writer and director do their best to make this story flow so that it all is of a piece. The acting is superb for the leads, adequate for the secondary roles, and the camera work manages to make the numerous battlefield sequences seem cogent.
In the end is the beginning: the death of Augustus. A casual mention is made that during his reign there was born in the land of Judea a child whose name was Jesus...and suddenly the whole lengthy film gathers more meaning. This is a fine overview of Roman history and civilization and thanks to the fine work by Peter O'Toole and Charlotte Rampling the result is very satisfying. Grady Harp
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