Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I Claudius

I read in The Guardian last week that HBO is planning to remake the 1970s BBC series I Claudius. Reaction on the right hand side of the sheugh seems initially to be hostile. I Claudius is regarded as a classic and one of the high points of the BBC in the 1970s along with Kenneth Clark's Civilization, David Attenborough's Life On Earth and Jacob Bronowski's Ascent of Man. In college I read the Robert Graves novel I Claudius and liked it very much. It's Graves's second best book after his brilliant memoir Goodbye To All That which is a must read for anyone interested in World War 1 and its aftermath (it's also a must read for anyone who has struggled through the ghastly E E Cummings novel/memoir The Enormous Room). After college I read Graves's sequel to I Claudius, Claudius The God which isn't quite as good, but I had never seen the TV series until a couple of years ago when I rented it from Netflix. I was pretty surprised to discover that this "classic" was actually very cheesy. Hammy, badly lit, filmed on cheap, wobbly sets, the BBC's I Claudius reminded me more of Blake's 7 or Dr. Who than the high art I had been expecting. The acting was poor and over the top and the art direction valiant but ultimately doomed by the BBC's limited budget. The scriptwriters cut out much of the novel's nuance and almost all of the humour and the whole thing is actually quite embarrassing today. If I were HBO I wouldn't worry about the critics from the UK who say that they are going to spoil a classic, those critics are either demented old luvvies or they haven't actually seen I Claudius for a long time.