I, Claudius (1976– )
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A Touch of Murder 

Elderly and lame from birth emperor Claudius is writing his biography and the history of his family. He recalls an encounter with the Sibyl, who recognizes him from his stutter and tells ... See full summary »



(novels), (screenplay)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Frances White ...
Christopher Guard ...
Sheila Ruskin ...
Carleton Hobbs ...
Michael Hawkins ...
Renu Setna ...
Freda Dowie ...


Elderly and lame from birth emperor Claudius is writing his biography and the history of his family. He recalls an encounter with the Sibyl, who recognizes him from his stutter and tells him that his account will be famous in 1900 years time. Back in Rome in 24AD emperor Augustus is celebrating the anniversary of the battle of Actium, when he and his friend Agrippa defeated Antony and Cleopatra. However now Augustus is tipping his young nephew Marcellus as his heir. This displeases the emperor's wife, the formidable Livia, who wants the succession to pass to her son from her first marriage, Tiberias, even though Tiberias believes that Augustus dislikes him. Agrippa is also annoyed and leaves Rome. When Marcellus falls ill Livia insists on nursing him and he dies soon after, as she has clearly poisoned him. This provokes a riot among the citizens but it is quelled by the return of Agrippa, who calms the crowd down. A grateful Augustus gives Julia, Marcellus's widow to Agrippa as his ... Written by don @ minifie-1

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20 September 1976 (UK)  »

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[first lines]
Claudius: I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus... this, that and the other...
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A Touch of Antiquity
1 July 2012 | by (Cieszyn, Poland) – See all my reviews

"I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus...this, that and the other, who was once, and not so long ago, better known to my friends and relatives as Claudius the Idiot, or that Fool Claudius, or Claudius the Stammerer, am now about to write the strange history of my life..."

...that is how both the novel and its BBC adaptation begin. Deep within the Roman times of the 1st century B.C, the title mosaic of a snake introduces us to the 'strange history' of a man whose voice was mute for long and heard clearly after 1,900 years, as the Sybil prophesied (presumably, this voice was heard again with the publication of Graves's novel). "A Touch of Murder" appears to evoke the 'fearful existence' of a certain story while the prophesy blended with mystery stimulates Claudius' "touch of antiquity."

The 'old king log' (as the emperor will call himself before his death) decides to write the history of his life for prosperity. That makes us the sole addressees of what will go on in the thirteen consecutive episodes. Claudius, as a narrator, communicates with us his thoughts filled with some fantasy, some premonitions, some memories and, foremost, he feeds our curiosity. The theatrical touches throughout the series make it all an approach where stage becomes reality. And what is the stage?

The inside of the imperial court in Rome!

A unique flashback of Claudius' memories brings us back to 24 B.C. A lavish Roman feast is held in honor of the seventh anniversary of the famous Battle of Actium. Ancient history freaks and cinema buffs know well that this very battle made Octavian (later named Augustus) the sole 'ruler' of Rome. The Republic is over once and for all. What symbolizes the 'new Rome'? Is this a growing decadence revealed in conspiracies and 'a touch of murder?' Naked slave girls who dance for the delight of all the banquet's participants? We have the graphic and symbolic manifestation of the empire - its rulers, wealth and arrogance to make others sheer tools for entertainment - dancers and orators. Even a visual image of a stunning cake, a replica of a victorious Marcus Agrippa's ship that led Marcus Antonius and his Egyptian queen to 'shameful defeat,' evokes the splendor and a pompous glorification so widespread at the period. The Greek orator, Aristarchus (wonderful Carleton Hobbs), glorifies the deeds. From this very start, we notice the considerable efforts taken by Herbert Wise, Jack Pulman, Martin Lisemore, the adviser Robert Erskine, the designer Tim Harvey and others to accurately recreate the times, including the costumes, the seats, the furnishings and social positions. And the characters?

The young and the old, dominant rulers and ambitious youngsters, proud leaders and sarcastic youngsters - all are gathered to celebrate. Something very Roman... We get to know most of them thanks to Claudius' narration which beautifully hits the right tone for the plot. Augustus (Brian Blessed) is, of course, the most important character among them and we feel that superiority in the scene's mood. There is Tiberius and his wife Vipsania, there is Julia, Augustus' daughter. Their plots that develop tell us more about them than words. Among them, one that is worth attention and will be for many episodes of the serial is Livia (Sian Phillips), Augustus' wife. As the storyline develops, most surprises occur to prove the fact that if Augustus ruled the world, Livia actually ruled Augustus...

But, what each episode does very well, not excluding this first one, is the depiction of supporting characters (certain historical characters). Episode One draws on two rivals: Marcus Agrippa (John Paul) and Marcellus (Christopher Guard). While the former one, known to many thanks to one of Roman monuments of Pantheon in Rome which dates back to the period, represents the past triumphs, the latter one represents the future, the best features of a young Roman of the time. Marcellus is a youngster who has, ironically, just learned how to 'piss in the pot' but who is honorable and loved by the people of Rome. Are they too dangerous for those who scheme against 'favoritism' of imperial eye? Or those who stand in the way?

Keeping very faithful to its novel source, "A Touch of Murder" is an episode which can be considered very clear, even simple in its moments that draw viewers' attention. The clever script and some humor revealed in cutting remarks prove the above assumption right. Moreover, the sets, including the scene in the garden, constitute some aspects of fine entertainment within a 'touch of antiquity' for a modern viewer. But there is one more note that addresses both historical accuracy and character development. This is Tiberius (George Baker), the future emperor of Rome. In this first episode, Tiberius is a young brooding man (he is almost 20 - though the actor looks 20 years older). Although he is happy in his marriage, he is a typical mother's son who does what his mother wants of him. In a humorous scene, he first sneers at the prophetic omen at his birth, the plans of his mother are not clear to him ("Where does it all get us?" he asks) but, above all, he occurs to be a sort of character within a cage of intrigues. Where will they gradually get him? Consecutive episodes will slowly reveal...

Wicked plans seem to be complicated pretty much. One thing is certain: behind any decision, there is always a shadow of a villainous woman who really rules the empire. And others? By all means, they had better avoid a touch of murder like a poisonous serpent...

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