Over ten days, I’m listing two hands worth of TV shows that have helped shape the artist I try to be. Days one to six have been collated already, and today, it’s the turn of the finest historical drama ever produced.
Hold a gun to my head and I won’t budge: I, Claudius is still just about the best piece of TV ever filmed. The cast is unparallelled, the acting is intense and superb, the plot a brilliant mixture of history and drama. It’s 1970s BBC, so the sets betray a certain echo-ish quality, but they are beyond unimportant: this is simply the most riveting, compelling set of performances I’ve ever seen.
And what a cast: Derek Jacobi, Sian Phillips, Brian Blessed, George Baker, John Hurt, Patrick Stewart, Ian Ogilvy, John Rhys Davies… with the likes of Christopher Biggins, Bernard Hill, and Patsy Byrne hidden further down the credits. Put simply, you couldn’t afford to assemble a cast like this any more. The characters were achingly human, the plot complex and compelling, the stakes permanently high. It was breathtaking, and while it does show the effects of 1970s BBC budgets, none of that matters: as soon as the actors appear, everything else fades into the background.
It’s effect on me as a young teen, seeing it for the first time, was explosive. I was instantly hooked on the show, but it also opened up within me a lifelong love of history, of fantasy, and of mythology. It was a gateway drug for so many of the fascinations of my adulthood, and my adoration of so many of its actors has been long lasting. I will never not love it, and I have revisited it on a regular basis. It is truly wonderful.