One Small Scene: “He was my enemy too at one time.”

The words themselves suggest a lightness, something pensive or forgiving when it is of nothing of the sort, espoused by a jolly dictator about to turn:

“You’re just like your father! Ha ha! Always wanting the Republic! Ha ha ha ha!

He was my enemy too at one time.”

I had no idea Brian Blessed could be terrifying, much like Patrick Stewart had a full head of red hair, and it’s in an old but curiously good series which probably propelled a great many careers when my Nan was young. I Claudius is a great book, and the series performs a fascinating point of being dramatic and intended as comedy yet the acting is frankly more subtle and fascinatingly impressive like I imagine the old plays were. It’s why Derek Jacobi is renowned as an elderly gentleman when you see how goddamned good his Claudian stutter and personality are conveyed. Watching the man you remember as say Professor Yana youthful, giving a performance that is not only against type, but likely showing every inch of range he has makes me enjoy it as much as I roll my eyes at the awful make up deceiving you at the beginning framing device.

It’s a flash, a warning to Germanicus and a display of something I thought was only poetic expression. You literally see ‘the whites of his eyes’ flare, Blessed’s upturned head and pallor change with his expression so quickly its something horrifying. Not quite a thespian exaggeration, but a bridge between the stage and what television historical dramas would eventually become.

He chortles, gesticulates following the line. But the exaggerated sense of watchfulness and threat, the amount of murder that this story tries but cannot fully blot out directly stemming from Augustus rears its head here. Some people are jovial and affable, like Drusus from a kind of ignorant, kind-hearted good. Characters like Augustus, also, are happy and friendly too.


Until their power is threatened.

Until someone suggests they put something aside, too foolish to realise the danger at taking someone at a supposed promised they never wish to uphold.

If anything (and by directorial intention) David Robb’s winning smile being utterly deflated realising his mistake punctuates this even better.

Within the second episode we progress from an eccentric dictator being portrayed more as a blustery but somewhat sad man emotionally abused by his wife, to the irascible individual the man becomes clearly in old age.

Blessed’s Augustus speaks and speaks, a great deal of it jokes, pushes for relatability and humour, something imitated by Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon 35 years after. But the certain glances beneath his gentle tones and assurances are glassy eyed stares. There is very little like it on television, because it is so blatant. We rarely see even a Walter White look murderously enraged, or truly drunk with power. Conniving, angry, they may spit out dialogue. But where a nasty word is said, here the character’s malice is entirely conveyed through visual presentation.

One small scene, of many portrayed in sets of fountains and bathhouses. But it resonates with incredible power, a strange quality of gallows humour and threat. A performance entirely of its own dominion, an Augustus quite unlike any other.


I, Claudius, 1976.

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