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Family Affairs, I Claudius, Part 1b.

September 28, 2021
I, Claudius: Hey, Kids! Let's Restore the Republic! | An Historian Goes to  the Movies

Ian Ogilvy was a staggeringly good looking bloke, wasn’t he? I mean, I dare say he still is, but he’s very much stuck in the 1970s in my imagination.

He was, of course, the school bully in Tomkinson’s Schooldays – one of the funniest half hours ever broadcast. And he was The Saint. Indeed, I believe I regarded Ian Ogilvy’s elevation to James Bond, treading the same path as Roger Moore, as something of a certainty when I was a boy. There is something about the idea of Ogilvy’s failure to become James Bond that retroactively informs an appreciation of his performance as Drusus.

He plays Drusus in I Claudius, brother to Tiberius and father to Germanicus, Livilla, and finally Claudius. You’ve heard the expression “a face that only a mother could love”? Ian Ogilvy’s Drusus has a face that everyone except his mother loves. Livia sends her personal physician Musa to tend to Drusus as he struggled to recover from his wounds on the Germany frontier: “He’ll know how to take care of him.” The episode concludes with us assuming that Drusus was dispatched by Musa on his own mother’s orders, although much later we learn that this was not in fact the case. Sometimes, it seems, people just died in the Roman Empire without Livia having anything to do with it.

Like all the good guys in Robert Grave’s vision of the Julio-Claudian era, Drusus is secretly (though not secretly enough) a republican. Oddly enough, this zeal for republican virtue did not make Graves sympathetic to John Milton.

The episode begins with alternating gym memberships. Tiberius and Drusus are throwing a medicine ball about in one and Antonia and Julia are having a massage in another. Tiberius confesses his dark and joyless ambitions to Drusus while Julia confesses her suspicions about Livia to Antonia. Tiberius really hates his new wife Julia even though it makes him Augustus’ son in law as well as step son. The visceral nature of this loathing is hard to fathom, since Julia is obviously one of the nicest characters in the whole story. We start to learn that Julia is very frank about sex and this makes her dialogues with the prudish Antonia (Mark Antony’s daughter as we keep being told) all the more enjoyable. As she remarks archly of Tiberius’ ex wife Vipsania… “that was the trouble, he was always pleased to see the back of her.”

Nobody is as miserable as George Baker’s Tiberius. He is more miserable than anyone else throughout his long life and for the duration of every episode of I Claudius in which he appears. In this episode, he is at his lowest ebb while stalking and persecuting his ex Vipsania. He is at his most slappable in this scene – a wreck of ludicrous self pity, someone you feel should be permitted to just kill themselves rather than spread ripples of depression wherever they go.

As Drusus dies, Antonia puts baby Claudius to his chest in a scene that is as crude and manipulative as it is completely effective. Then the shot shimmers and dissolves into a shot of elderly Claudius’ face. We are prepared for the reality that Claudius would never know the father who might have loved him and was stuck with a mother who found it really really difficult to.

You would expect this to end the episode, but instead we have a rather awkward coda in which Tiberius goes nuts on Julia after a boozy dinner party, bridged by a bit of banter between Emperor Claudius and his wise-cracking food taster played by the wonderful Tony Haygarth.

“Family Affairs” is the name given to part two of the first episode – originally broadcast as one extra long opener with “A Touch of Murder” in September 1976.

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