Back in 1985 I was mesmerised by the Glyn Dearman production of Robert Graves' classic Roman tale, made at the Maida Vale studios, with Timothy West in the title role. It went out in two ninety-minute episodes: I, Claudius and Claudius the God...
I recall a wonderful sound effect in one of the scenes where there's a battle involving elephants; impossible on television.
Now we have a new dramatization by Robin Brooks in six one-hour episodes broadcast as the Classic Serial. (R4, Sundays, beginning 28 Nov).
Sir Derek Jacobi, who was in the 1976 TV version as Claudius, plays emperor Augustus; Tom Goodman-Hill takes the title role. It's a superb production, and approaches the quality of Glyn Dearman's masterpiece. Perhaps one shouldn't compare the two versions; the larger canvas needs a different approach.
Robin Brooks put some interesting comments on the radio 4 blog; here's a brief summary of some of them:
....As material for dramatisation, one of the best things about 'I, Claudius' is that it starts very well and then gets better...... as the dynasty unravels - Graves produces more and more splendid villains for our delectation: grandma-serial killer Livia, her son the morose and sexually perverted Tiberius, ghastly Gnaeus Piso , Tiberius's slimy sidekick Sejanus, nephew Caligula, who can now be heard waiting about on the fringes of the action, ready to reveal himself as the most glorious psychopath of all; even Claudius's monstrous, murderous wife Urgulanilla, will now get her moment in the spotlight. These characters are a gift to the writer and to the actors, who, as I hope you've noticed by now, attack them with delightful relish.
He goes on to contrast the way in which radio can be more faithful to the book than television - gladatorial combat, mutinying legions, and a host of other scenes are portrayed in a more realistic way using sound only.
Comments from the messageboard were unanimously positive, including this one from "m", posted on 30 Nov 2010:
What a great dramatisation! Enjoyed it immensely - I'd forgotten quite what a terrific yarn this is. A superb production and excellent acting! Very much looking foward to listening to the rest.
Here's what Jane Anderson said about it in "Radio Times", in the run-up to episode 3, slightly edited and shortened:
.......the finest drama that I have ever heard on British radio. It certainly does not hurt to be working with Robert Graves' superlative source material, but this does the production no justice. It is a work of brilliance from the whole team - dramatist, director, actors, music, sound effects. Part 3 sees Emperor Tiberius teetering between a desire to give it all up and indulge his debauched sexual practices on an island, and hanging on to the threads of power that keep his twisted ego alive. As radio dramas go, this is a triumph.
Cast (for episode 3, taken from Radio Times): Tom Goodman-Hill, Derek Jacobi, Tim McInnerney, Harriet Walter, Samuel Barnett, Sam Dale, Hattie Morahan, Christine Kavanagh, Leah Brotherhead, Lloyd Thomas, Tony Bell, Sally Orrock, Jude Akuwudike, Sean Baker, Harry Devas, Claire Harry, Deeivya Meir, Adeel Akhtar, Iain Batchelor. Producer Jonquil Panting; music composed by David Pickavance.
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