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“Caligula darling, what are you doing out of bed?” I Claudius, Episode 6, reviewed.

October 13, 2021
As the Young Caligula, I Claudius BBC 1976 | Acting career, Acting, Young

Just as every previous episode can be imagined as a “fall of” story (Marcellus, Drusus, Julia, Posthumus, Augustus), so this episode deals with the fall of Germanicus.

However, this episode is “about” Germanicus in much the same way that Oliver Stone’s JFK is about John Kennedy. Germanicus is killed at the start and the rest of the narrative is about the implications of the killing. Jack Pullman, following Robert Graves, offers an elaborate conspiracy – though nowhere near such a paranoid and ludicrous plot as Oliver Stone serves up.

It is instructive to compare the Graves-Pulman account of the trial of Piso and his wife Plancina for the murder of Germanicus with the version offered by Philip Mackie in The Caesars (1968). In Mackie’s version, a conscientious Tiberius is wrestling with what may be a central dilemma of the entire Roman imperial project. How can you respond to remote border conflicts in a timely fashion without giving regional governors and generals a dangerous amount of autonomy? Mackie’s Tiberius (Andre Morell) responds by effectively dividing authority in the East, ensuring that the subordinate Piso corresponds directly with the Emperor so as to act as a check on Germanicus’ ambitions. Nowhere in I Claudius is this fundamental structural problem so much as acknowledged. In Mackie’s version, incidentally, Germanicus is a bit of an idiot and his wife Agrippina is a schemer.

As it happens, the whole of this episode of I Claudius is told as a fraught recollection while sitting on the lavatory. It’s basically elongated musings in the course of one particularly difficult bowel movement.

Stratford Johns, stalwart of so much 1970s TV drama is Piso. He’s a wonderfully pompous figure, most effective when most self righteous. He can’t even commit suicide properly.

Patsy Byrne, best known as “Nursie” from Blackadder II, has a wonderful cameo role as Martina the poisoner. She has just one delicious scene with Siân Phillips where they compare notes on poisoning techniques. When Marina praises Livia’s wealth of knowledge as says it’s a shame Livia never practiced (and the TV audience’s collective jaw plummets with irony overload), Livia seems to be profoundly and sincerely moved by the compliment. Martina’s accent has long bothered me, and I think it would have tried the diagnostic talents of a Henry Higgins. I am provisionally filing it under “Welsh-Transylvanian”.

Patrick Stewart’s suave Sejanus has a wonderful smile. Whatever that stuff is that seems to sort of sprout from the top of his head, he is without doubt the sexiest alpha male of the central portion of the series. At present he appears to be content to act as the functionary of Tiberius, but the fact that Sejanus is so calm and collected under pressure (in contrast with Tiberius) is a portent of the danger her represents.

Note George Pravda as the Jewish landlord Gershom. Pravda was very prolific on TV in the seventies and appeared prominently in my favourite Doctor Who adventure.

At the very beginning we are introduced to a very creepy looking child with golden curls. Yes – it’s who you think it is. When Agrippina (the almost suffocatingly upright and principled Fiona Walker) suggests that no-one could have squeezed into the rooms where grim portents had been deposited so as to help scare Germanicus to death, then the boy coughs very significantly. We notice this. Nobody else does.

A spoilt little brat with a taste for sleeping with this sister and calling everything west of Thrace “German”, Caligula concludes the episode by burning the house down.

I have thoughts about other episodes of I Claudius.

See below.

Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:

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Episode 5:

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