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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Now you understand why I have always been divine..." (Caligula to
After the downfall of Sejanus (Patrick Stewart) and the frenzy in Rome which became a bloodbath for a moment, one could not predict much more to happen during the reign of Tiberius (George Baker). And this assumption proves right just at the beginning of Episode 9 when 'the man of ambition' Macro (John Rhys-Davis) contributes to bringing the decadent reign of the old debaucher to an inevitable end. The depiction of Tiberius' death with the slave shouting "the emperor is alive again; he's called for his supper and he wants his ring back" (while Caligula has already put the imperial ring on his finger) is very faithful to historical references included in Robert Graves' novel too. In a demagogic scene filled with unrestrained deception, wretchedness but also humor, a new reign is announced - a 'glorious reign' of the sweet Claudian apple (no chance for being it otherwise), the son of Germanicus - Caligula (John Hurt). Slogans are everywhere, slogans like 'Rome is saved;' 'prosperity will envy us.' But we all know where slogans usually lead history... Not as long as some announcements of the new reign are made, the most weird, shocking moments are ahead of those 'naively parroting shouters.' Metamorphosis of the young emperor transforms him into a 'god' - a 'superior god.'
Many viewers, even fans of the I CLAUDIUS serial, find this episode gory, unendurable, outrageous. In fact, this episode proved the assumption that the serial pushed the limits of moral acceptability on TV right. There is a terrible scene when Gemellus' head is being brought before Caligula and people present (including Claudius). Yes, Claudius is a witness of all events but there is, foremost, one horrific act we witness with him in the final moment. This includes the most shocking scene that Pulman brought to the script - Caligula (mixture of mythological Zeus, Jove and 20th century Crowley) slays his sister-wife Drusilla (Beth Morris) in an Olympus-like chamber of lust and godliness. Yes, it is gory, it is hideous and demonic. As a result, the episode ends with feelings of sickness and disgust. However, some criticism does not recognize the many positive aspects that lie behind the depiction of this lunatic's wretched reign and, more importantly, some hidden reference to modern times. But, let me now highlight the aspect of performances.
Foremost, it is here where some of the best acting skills of John Hurt and Derek Jacobi are revealed. Just consider the scene after the alleged 'metamorphosis' when the hardest moments actually await poor Claudius. He acts a momentary role within his role. A butter within a fool. It is a moment which, we can say, resembles the core of man's struggle to survive. Claudius/Derek Jacobi is a top notch performer! Besides, it is the episode where Margaret Tyzack handles her most powerful scene (her final one, actually) and delivers one of her best lines. Her conversation with Claudius before her suicide is a perfect mixture of determination, disappointment and grief over lost values -- something a good person may experience in beastly times. What motives there are in her! How logical and calm she is in her decision! She makes up her mind, she does not hesitate. Antonia occurs to be one of the best characters in the serial and is made even more positive to us at the end thanks to being more 'motherly' to Claudius. Just for this little moment...but better late than never. Mind you that Claudius again is there to assure the funeral practices being with the key characters in their crucial moments... Herbert Wise nicely said about Ms Tyzack's character saying that 'she was one of the moral people in the piece who stood up for what she thought was right." That scene is, undeniably, the most memorable of the episode in the positive sense. John Rhys Davis also delivers some splendid lines within the context. But let me now focus on how the episode again corresponds to modern times.
Actually, Episode 8 dealt with ambition of power-obsessed impostor. Power was wielded by means of fear and violence...something we have seen in our times too often. No doubt of it. Pulman nicely addressed our concept of 'reign of terror.' Episode 9, calling our attention to Caligula (a timeless symbol of insane power), provokes the thought what becomes of those in power when they are driven by demonic, lunatic forces of divine insanity. In one of the scenes, Caligula hears the terrible gallop in his head. It shocks the Senators, all people who are watching him but no one does anything about it, no one draws right conclusion and prompts for action. Isn't that all a spectacle of a fool surrounded by indifferent people who, if not butter him, remain indifferent? Caligula is the incarnate of lie, the one enslaved by the gallop of his power driven roar moving around... and the subjects observe their 'insane master.'
A shocking episode and, indeed, not for everyone to see but the one which, with the exception of Beth Morris, boasts a display of really excellent performances.
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