"I, Claudius" Reign of Terror (TV Episode 1976) Poster

(TV Mini-Series)


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Reign of Power-Obsessed Impostor
Marcin Kukuczka16 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
After the gloomy death scene of Livia, we get one of the most insightful episodes, insightful into the core idea of what corrupted power really means. It is not yet the madness of Caligula that barely appears in timeless terms but the ill ambition of impostors. Emperor Tiberius (George Baker) stays at Capri while the power-obsessed Sejanus (Patrick Stewart) rules in more and more 'despicable' Rome. The history of Sejanus, plagued by corrupted 'reign of terror,' his promotion to higher ranks and his downfall, do not only play a decisive role under Graves' pen but generally in the history of the 1st century Roman Empire. Just few noble characters survive, including Antonia (Margaret Tyzack) who, actually, as late as here contributes to the tragic yet inevitable conclusion to the entire episode. Not as Claudius's mother but as a Roman matron, she represents 'old Rome' with her honor, service and duty.

We can partly say that it is an episode about Sejanus but Jack Pulman beautifully inserts the mainstay characters into the plot. Here, let me quote John Hurt from the documentary who referred to Pulman's screenplay saying: "It read very well but it played even better." Apart from the treason trials and false accusations as means to secure ill power (this time, the victims are Drusus Caesar played by Richard Hunter and Asinius Gallus played by Charles Kay), one of the ever present themes is marriage. This time, not only Claudius-Aelia's relationship that somehow manifests the hero's failure of relationships with women but, primarily, Sejanus-Livilla's. He is going to divorce his wife Apicata (Kate Lansbury) who actually opens the episode manifesting the conflict between patriotism and self-happiness. The powerful Sejanus is going to marry Antonia's daughter, Claudius' sister, widow of poisoned Castor, still deliciously ruthless Livilla (Patricia Queen). They seem exceptionally determined in their ambitions and occur to play tricks even on the emperor - that 'old goat Tiberius' who is not going to stop them. But isn't he?

The downfall of Sejanus, that black spider on Rome's shoulder, occurs quite unpredictable and pretty indicative. Just as he dies the same way he himself once killed Postumus, another 'hungry dog' - 'no man of integrity but a man of ambition' takes his place. In such incarnates of power, one chases the other in the unrestrained race of wolves. Asinius Gallus (Charles Kay) memorably refers to this rotten history lesson manifested in 'sense of smell.' And Livilla? The almost theatrical moment of Antonia sitting at the door behind which Livilla is closed and yells for help (compare to Julia at the door of Augustus in episode 3) has its deeper meaning of Roman matron as mother and her tragedy, her own punishment. A responsible parent. Margaret Tyzack interestingly refers to this moment (actually one of her most memorable moments) in the documentary I CLAUDIUS - A TELEVISION EPIC.

Besides, this episode nicely depicts Tiberius in his old age. There are no 'open' scenes of nudity, debauchery (like it is the case in CALIGULA) but we can indicate much from his face and a very meaningful scene with Agrippina (her last scene in the series in fact). Her exile is something that arouses him, it is something that makes him delighted by the idea of whipping a mocked queen, her mocked search for justice. Later, the scene when two future emperors (Claudius and Caligula) with one present emperor (Tiberius) meet is just a brilliant representation of ambition's manipulation and wretchedness of history's evil omen - mind you a meaningful phrase: create a list. For the first time, though the goals are to be achieved, Caligula occurs really dangerous, a viper nursed on the shoulder of Rome...Just a pity Pulman omits the character of Nerva who plays an important role in Graves' novel.

Dominated by bloodshed, debauchery, vengeance, the final scene of the frenzy constitutes anticipation that the worst days for Rome have not come yet. Similarly, the most shocking episode is ahead of us with no man of integrity, no man of ambition but a man of insanity...
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