I, Claudius (TV series)

I, Claudius
Created by Robert Graves
Based on I, Claudius and
Claudius the God
by Robert Graves
Written by Jack Pulman
Directed by Herbert Wise
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 12 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Martin Lisemore
Running time 50+ minutes per episode
Production company(s) BBC/London Films
Original network BBC2
Original release 20 September (1976-09-20) – 6 December 1976 (1976-12-06)

I, Claudius is a 1976 BBC Television adaptation of Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Written by Jack Pulman,[1] it starred Derek Jacobi as Claudius, with Siân Phillips, Brian Blessed, George Baker, Margaret Tyzack, John Hurt, Patricia Quinn, Ian Ogilvy, Kevin McNally, Patrick Stewart, and John Rhys-Davies.

Among many other productions and adaptations, Graves's Claudius novels have also been adapted for BBC Radio 4 broadcast (2010) and for the theatre (1972).


I, Claudius follows the history of the early Roman Empire, narrated by the elderly Emperor Claudius, from the death of Marcellus in the first episode to Claudius' own death in the last.

The series opens with Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome, attempting to find an heir, and his wife, Livia, plotting to elevate her own son Tiberius to this position, through the covert assassination and betrayal of any rivals. The plotting and double-crossing continue for many decades, through the reign of Tiberius, the political conspiracy of his Praetorian Prefect Sejanus and the rule of the lunatic emperor Caligula, culminating in the accidental rise to power of his uncle Claudius. Claudius' enlightened reign is marred by the betrayals of his adulterous wife Messalina and his boyhood friend Herod Agrippa. Eventually, Claudius comes to accept the inevitability of his own assassination and consents to marrying his scheming niece, Agrippina the Younger, clearing the way for the ascension of his mad stepson, Nero.


The series was produced by Joan Sullivan and Martin Lisemore, and directed by Herbert Wise in the studios at BBC Television Centre. Production was delayed because of complex negotiations between the BBC and the copyright holders of Alexander Korda's aborted 1937 film version. This did, however, give the scriptwriter Jack Pulman more time to fine-tune his script.

Filming was studio based, for artistic rather than budgetary reasons.[2] I, Claudius was made at a relatively low cost of £60,000 for an hour of broadcast material, in a series that had a total running time of 650 minutes.[3] Considering pound sterling inflation, the entire show would have cost £3,960,000 in 2013.

As discussed in the 2002 documentary I, Claudius: A Television Epic, the scene in episode 8, "Zeus, by Jove!" where Caligula cuts the fetus from Drusilla's womb was considered too shocking and was therefore re-edited several times, even on the day of its premiere by order of Bill Slater, then head of Serials Department. After initial broadcast and a rerun two days later, the shot of the fetus was removed so that the episode now ends with Claudius looking in shock and horror but the audience does not see what he sees. The deleted shot was only shown twice in 1976 and is now lost since the BBC no longer has a copy of it.[4]

The 2002 documentary, which features extensive interviews with all the principal cast members, revealed many previously unknown facts about the casting and development of the series:


Wilfred Josephs wrote the title music. David Wulstan and the Clerkes of Oxenford ensemble provided the (diegetic) music for most episodes.

Awards and reception

United Kingdom

During its original airing in 1976, the BBC estimated that I, Claudius had an average audience of 2,500,000 viewers per episode, based on rating surveys.[5]

Among other awards, the series won three BAFTAs in 1977 (Derek Jacobi, Best Actor (TV); Siân Phillips, Best Actress (TV); Tim Harvey, Best Design (TV)).

Director Herbert Wise won Outstanding Contribution Award at BAFTAs in 1978.

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, I, Claudius was placed 12th.

United States

The series was subsequently broadcast in the United States as part of PBS's Masterpiece Theatre series, where it received critical acclaim. Tim Harvey won a 1978 Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction. The producers and director received nominations for Emmys.

In 2007 it was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME".[6]


Actor Character
Derek Jacobi Claudius
Siân Phillips Livia Drusilla
George Baker Tiberius
John Hurt Caligula
Brian Blessed Augustus
Patrick Stewart Lucius Aelius Sejanus
Margaret Tyzack Antonia Minor
Patricia Quinn Livilla
John Paul Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa
Sheila White Messalina
Christopher Biggins Nero
Ian Ogilvy Nero Claudius Drusus
David Robb Germanicus
John Castle Agrippa Postumus
Fiona Walker Agrippina the Elder
Frances White Julia the Elder
James Faulkner Herod Agrippa
Kevin McNally Castor
John Rhys-Davies Naevius Sutorius Macro
Christopher Guard Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Stratford Johns Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso
Bernard Hepton Marcus Antonius Pallas
John Cater Tiberius Claudius Narcissus
Barbara Young Agrippinilla
Beth Morris Julia Drusilla
Ashley Knight Young Claudius
Katharine Levy Young Livilla
Gary Lock Young Germanicus
Michael Clements Young Herod

Actor Character
Simon MacCorkindale Lucius Caesar
Sheila Ruskin Vipsania Agrippina
Angela Morant Octavia the Younger
Graham Seed Britannicus
Jo Rowbottom Calpurnia
Lyndon Brook Appius Junius Silanus
Sam Dastor Cassius Chaerea
Kevin Stoney Thrasyllus of Mendes
Freda Dowie Milonia Caesonia & Sibyl
Irene Hamilton Munatia Plancina
Darien Angadi Gaius Plautius Silanus
Peter Bowles Caratacus
Norman Eshley Marcus Vinicius
John Bennett Gaius Stertinius Xenophon
Patsy Byrne Martina
Douglas Melbourne Tiberius Gemellus
Karin Foley Helen
Earl Rhodes Gaius Caesar
Richard Hunter Drusus Caesar
Russell Lewis Young Lucius
Robert Morgan Young Caligula
Cheryl Johnson Claudia Octavia
Isabel Dean Lollia
Liane Aukin Aelia Paetina
Moira Redmond Domitia Lepida the Younger
Bernard Hill Gratus
Norman Rossington Sergeant of the Guard
Lockwood West Senator
Nicholas Amer Mnester
Renu Setna Antonius Musa
Jennifer Croxton Plautia Urgulanilla
Charles Kay Gaius Asinius Gallus Saloninus
Donald Eccles Gaius Asinius Pollio
Denis Carey Livy
John Truscott Librarian
Norman Shelley Horace
Carleton Hobbs Aristarchus
Guy Siner Pylades
Edward Jewesbury Titus
Aubrey Richards Lucius Visellius Varo
Roy Purcell Publius Vitellius the Younger
Jonathan Burn Paullus Fabius Maximus
Esmond Knight Domitus
Jon Laurimore Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus
Bruce Purchase Gaius Sabinus
James Fagan Asprenas and Julia's lover
Geoffrey Hinsliff Rufrius
George Little Tortius
Neal Arden Cestius
Sally Bazely Poppea
Jan Carey Diana
Peter Williams Gaius Silius Caecina
Anne Dyson Briseis
George Pravda Gershom
Stuart Wilson Gaius Silius
Charlotte Howard Scylla
Manning Wilson Gaius Vibius Marsus
George Innes Quintus Justus
Linal Haft Geta
Kate Lansbury Apicata
Roger Bisley Aulus Plautius and Senator
Tony Haygarth Claudius' Slave
George Howe Senator
Pat Gorman Captain of the Guard
Neil Dickson Guard
Amanda Kirby Young Antonia
Alister Kerr Young Postumus
Diana Hutchinson Young Agrippina


I, Claudius was preceded by the 1968 ITV historical drama The Caesars which covered very similar ground, but differed in its less sensationalist approach to the main characters and their motivations. The BBC's subsequent historical dramas The Borgias (1981) and The Cleopatras (1983) were produced in a similar vein, although they did not match the critical and commercial success of I, Claudius.


Cover of the US release of the first I, Claudius DVD. There has since been a remastered edition with a different cover.

Most VHS and DVD versions of the TV series include the BBC documentary The Epic That Never Was (1965), about the uncompleted Korda film version of the first book, featuring interviews with key production staff and actors as well as most of the surviving footage. The 2002 UK DVD edition also contains a documentary on the series, I, Claudius – a Television Epic, as well as some alternate and deleted scenes. The US DVD release was updated on 2 December 2008 with superior audio and video to the 2000 US DVD version, but it was met with hostile reviews from some customers, citing that some parts were either cut or censored from the original version, and no subtitles or closed captioning was included.[7][8] A 35th anniversary edition was released on 27 March 2012. It includes the 12 episodes (uncut except for "Zeus, by Jove!", which in 1976 originally contained a shot of the fetus that Caligula cut from Drusilla's womb, cut from all later repeats and now lost[4]) on four discs, SDH subtitles, and one disc of bonus features.[9]

See also


  1. In Pulman's script for Claudius's speech to the Senate in the final episode, Claudius prophesies that "the man who dwells by the pool shall open graves, and the dead shall live again". This is a reference to the scriptwriter, Jack Pulman, and a pun on the book's author, Robert Graves.
  2. Happy Birthday BBC 2, BBC 2 16 April 2014
  3. Last, Richard (17 March 1977). "I, Claudius and the Jinx". The Statesman.
  4. 1 2 "I, Claudius (TV Mini-Series 1976)". IMDb.
  5. British Broadcasting Corporation (1977). BBC Handbook 1977: Incorporating the Annual Report and Accounts 1975-76. London: British Broadcasting Corporation. p. 47.
  6. Poniewozik, James (6 September 2007). "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time. Time.com. Retrieved 8 April 2013.   See I, Claudius.
  7. "Amazon.com: I, Claudius: Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Siân Phillips, Brian Blessed, George Baker, Ian Ogilvy, Frances White, Margaret Tyzack, John Paul, Christopher Guard, Angela Morant, Sheila Ruskin, Herbert Wise, Dave Hillier, Martin Lisemore, Jack Pulman, Robert Graves: Movies & TV". amazon.com.
  8. "[DVD Reviews] HTF DVD REVIEW: I, Claudius The Epic That Never Was - DVD, Blu-ray & Digital HD Reviews - Home Theater Forum". Home Theater Forum.
  9. "Amazon.com: I, Claudius (35th Anniversary Edition): Sian Phillips, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, John Hurt: Movies & TV". amazon.com.

External links

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