I was gratified by the public response to this, the latest
Hollywood blockbuster tale from the days of the Roman
Empire, with Russell Crowe as the dedicated
soldier Maximus, who refuses to transfer his loyalty to
the new emperor, Commodus (Joachin Phoenix) and suffers the
consequences, winding up a gladiator in the Roman Colosseum.
Crowe is so good-and his character so compelling that I
forgave most of the gaffes in historical accuracy (most
evident in the early battle scenes and some of the costuming.
This was one of my favourite actors, Oliver Reed's, last
films, as he died during the filming.
I feel very put-apon if I cannot watch this superbly acted,
mordantly funny romp through the early Imperial days of
Rome. First seen in the latter half of the previous century,
it ranks as one of the best-loved miniseries ever
Derek Jacobi plays Emperor Claudius, who reflects in old
age on his life and his remarkable family, giving us a history
lesson that's unlike anything you learned in school.
The story, fictionalized from the accounts of the
emperors by Suetonius by author Robert Graves, begins in
24 B.C. during the reign of Augustus Caesar, Rome's first
emperor, and ends in A.D. 54 with Nero on the throne.
In between, I, Claudius details the scheming,
murder, madness, and lust that passed for politics in the
early years of the Pax Romana. The biggest worm in the Roman
apple is Augustus's wife, Livia (the superb Siān Phillips),
whose single-minded pursuit of power shapes the destiny of the
Empire. With a carefully planted rumor here and a poisoned fig
there, she gradually maneuvers her son, Tiberius, toward the
throne, creating an atmosphere of suspicion and treachery that
starts Rome on its helter-skelter slide into bloody chaos.
Further acting honors go to George Baker as Tiberius, who
resists but eventually succumbs to the destiny forced upon him
by his mother, and to John Hurt as a hilarious and absolutely
Jacobi is the perfect Claudius, hiding his intelligence
behind a crippling stammer and shuffling around the edges of
events--until he finds himself pulled to the very center. His
wry comments give shape to the tangled story of his family and
help the audience make sense of a dauntingly complex cast of
Something for everyone: a comedy tonight!"
Thus does the overture of A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, set the
ancient Roman scene for
afrantic, farcical adaptation of the stage musical
by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove.
We follow the fortunes of slave Pseudolus (Zero Mostel) as he tries to extricate himself
from an increasingly farcical situation; Mostel and a bevy of
inspired clowns, including Phil Silvers, Jack Gilford,
and Buster Keaton, keep the slapstick and the patter perking.
The cast also includes the young Michael Crawford as a
The set and costumes aptly paint a grungy,
earthy Rome that seems closer to the real thing than countless
respectable historical films on the subject. Well worth
watching for both the laughs and the costumery.
Those who have heard only those few bars of Carl Orff's
powerful opening and closing themes, O Fortuna Imperiatrix
Mundi from such films as Excalibur will be swept
away by the quality of this recording. Since I cannot have the
outstanding Deutches Grammofon recording from my youth, I have
searched far and wide for a quality recording to take its
place. This rendition fills that much-needed place in my CD
collection, as I hope it will in yours.
I had the great good fortune to be wined
and dined by my old amica, Heraklia, who prepared a full IV
course Roman meal (quite delicious), and this recording in the
background (as slaves playing around the triclinium was out of
the question. The music is quite different from the scores to
such movies as "Gladiator;" anyone who has seen some
of the banquet scenes in "I
Claudius ," however, will
probably recognise the musical style!