Imperium: Augustus

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Imperium: Augustus
Agustus 2003.jpg
British DVD cover
Directed by Roger Young
Produced by Luca Bernabei
Ferdinand Dohna
Salvatore Morello
Written by Eric Lerner
Starring Peter O'Toole
Vittoria Belvedere
Charlotte Rampling
Juan Diego Botto
Ken Duken
Anna Valle
Music by Pino Donaggio
Cinematography Giovanni Galasso
Edited by Alessandro Lucidi
Distributed by S.A.V
Force Entertainment
Casablanca Filmes
Release date(s) 2003 (UK/Italy/Germany/France/Spain)
Running time 200 min.
Country UK
Italy
France
Language English

Imperium: Augustus is a 2003 joint British-Italian production, and part of the Imperium series. It tells of the life story of Octavian and how he became Augustus. Half the film takes place in the past (as Augustus explains to his daughter Julia how he became who he was) and the other half takes place in the later life of Augustus.

The drama starred Peter O'Toole as Augustus, Charlotte Rampling as Livia, Vittoria Belvedere as Julia, Ken Duken as Marcus Agrippa, Benjamin Sadler as Octavian (young Augustus) and Juan Diego Botto as Iullus Antonius. It was filmed in Tunisia. The film was produced by EOS Entertainment and Lux Vide for RAI, Telecinco and ZDF.

Plot[edit]

Augustus is on his death bed. He looks back on his life to a conversation he had with his beloved daughter, Julia. After an attempt on Augustus' life, he is shocked to learn his closest friend and Julia's husband Marcus Agrippa is dead. Livia suggests that for the safety of Rome, her stepdaughter Julia should marry her son Tiberius. Her reluctance to marry Tiberius causes Augustus to sit down and tell her the story of how he became the emperor of Rome.

He recalls 46 BC Rome is in the middle of a civil war. Together with his friend Marcus Agrippa, the young Octavius (Augustus) goes to Spain in order to help Julius Caesar battle the troops of Pompey. Even though they are outnumbered they manage to defeat Pompey. Caesar honours his adopted son Octavius with a triumphal entry into Rome and then sends him to Macedonia together with Agrippa and the son of Caesar's friend, Maecenas. There Octavian hears the news of Caesar's assassination and he returns to Rome with his friends.

Back in Rome he is able to gain both the support of the people and Cicero. In his struggle with the conspirators against the murder of Caesar and claiming his new share of the empire, he finds an ally in Mark Antony, Caesar's right-hand man. Mark Antony not only pursues Brutus and Cassius, he also initiates a wave of executions, which practically eliminates the old Roman ruling class. Among those who are killed is the husband of Livia. Octavian marries Livia and divorces his wife Scribonia on the day she gave birth to their daughter Julia. In accordance with the laws of Rome claiming sole custody of his newborn baby. Julia resents Augustus's treatment of her mother.

Octavian and Mark Antony defeat Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Phillipi. Octavian and Mark Antony at first share the empire. However Antony has become the lover of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, having been taken in by the Egyptian culture of divinity. After Antony humiliates Octavian's elder sister Octavia by casting her out of his house and divorcing her, Rome declares war on Cleopatra. Agrippa defeats Antony at the Battle of Actium and after a successful military campaign Octavian becomes the sole ruler of the Roman Empire and in doing so takes the great name of Augustus. However he tells Maecenas that he will never be king of Rome. Octavian spares Iullus, Antony's son by his first wife, and sends him to Rome on Octavia's request to be raised as her son.

In present day Augustus's rule Rome experiences a period of peace, prosperity and an age where art and culture flourish. Agrippa and Maecenas are both dead. Livia is Augustus's principal advisor. She is envious of Julia, the mother of Augustus' heirs and the person Augustus claims that "[he] has never loved anyone as much as [her]". Julia is upset her husband's death as she was very fond of him and is upset when Augustus forces her to marry Livia's son Tiberius for whom she has an intense dislike for. Tiberius is also upset to divorce his wife whom he loves, although he does not dislike Julia and pities his stepsister, knowing how little happiness she has had in her life. Augustus sends Tiberius away to fight in a campaign. However before leaving Tiberius scolds him for his treatment of Julia, saying "you destroy everything you love."

Julia admits to her father that she loves Iullus Antonius. Iullus (along with Julia's half-brother Scipio) wish to end Augustus' reign and form a regency over Julia and Agrippa's sons. In the beginning it is Iullus who paid the assassin to kill Augustus. He then attempts to seduce Julia in order to get close to Augustus and avenge his father's death. However upon watching Julia being forced to marry Tiberius, Iullus realises that he has fallen in love with her. Augustus tells Julia that she can continue to see Iullus (provided they are discreet) but tells her that he hopes, eventually, she will come to see him for what he is and learn to live without him.

Tiberius returns from his campaign. He shocks Julia in her room and accuses her of having an affair with Iullus. She tells him their marriage is a sham and orders him to return to the northern borders else she will have her father throw him in prison as a deserter. Tiberius threatens to find Iullus and kill him. However when Julia still refuses to submit to Tiberius he attacks and rapes her.

Julia suffers a mental breakdown after the rape and confides to Iullus how miserable her life has been under her father's control. In her sorrow she tells him that sometimes she wishes her father were already dead just so her suffering would end. Iullus recites Julia's misery to Scipio and he comes upon with a plan to kill Augustus themselves. They agree not to tell Julia of the plan. Tiberius, who is still planning to kill Iullus for infidelity with his wife, overhears the plot and informs his mother. Livia decides that they will catch Iullus in the act and in doing so would rid themselves of Julia also.

Iullus uses his position in the imperial household to gain access to Augustus' chambers. However the plan is foiled when the noise alerts Livia, Julia and Tiberius to the scene. Tiberius fatally wounds Iullus and saves Augustus. Scipio and Iullus are revealed to be the assassins just as Julia enters. Before he is taken away Iullus tells Julia "I did it for you."

Augustus goes to the senate and orders them to exile Julia from Rome. They refuse due to her popularity with the people and the fact she is his daughter but Augustus demands they obey him. As he leaves the senate he instantly regrets it, stating that had Maecenas been alive he would never have allowed him to exile Julia. She tells him she was unaware of the plot but Augustus tells her for her own safety she must leave Rome. He insists on keeping her children. Julia finally tells Augustus that her life was a torture and it would have been kinder to kill her when she was born. Julia leaves saying that she, at least, loved her children. Upon sending Julia away Augustus breaks down into tears.

The scene returns to his death bed. Gaius and Lucius are dead, Julia is still in exile and Tiberius is heir to the throne. Before he dies Augustus cries out for Julia but Livia and Tiberius tell him she is not there. Then to everyone's surprise Julia, in a cape for disguise, enters. Happy to see his daughter again he holds out his hand to her and asks for forgiveness but she refuses to take his hand. Augustus is upset but understands. His final words are to Julia, asking "Did I play my part well in the comedy of life?" to which Julia replies "The gods will tell you, father." Augustus dies. Livia goes to place his death mask on but Julia takes it from her, kisses her father on the forehead and places it herself over her father's smiling dead face.

Cast[edit]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Imperium: Augustus has received criticism for its historical accuracy on the characters and the events that happened, but has been made popular due to the exciting soap opera feeling the drama has. Among its many criticisms is the way Augustus' daughter, Julia, was portrayed. While the character herself is similar in terms of personality, her behaviour with other men is not drawn entirely as history recalls her. Modern historians however have come to see Julia as a much more tragic character than history tells her as, and therefore a number of the changes made to her character is justified. Near the end the Julia scandal breaks and Iullus tries to assassinate Augustus. In reality he never came close and was the only of Julia's lovers that did not get exiled. His fate was far worse, being tried for treason and sentenced to death. He committed suicide before they could execute him. Iullus was also not in Egypt to be spared as the film portrayed.

Octavian has Caesar's son with Cleopatra and only one of Antony's children executed. Although it accurately shows Octavian sparing the children and sending them to live with his sister, Iullus was one of Antony's children who stayed in Athens with Octavia when Antony ran back to Cleopatra and divorced Octavia. Another change made for drama was when Julia came to see her father from exile while he was on his death bed. In reality she died the same year as Augustus but never returned to Rome.

Critical reception[edit]

Imperium: Augustus is equal parts history lesson and soap opera. Peter O'Toole plays Octavius/Augustus, heir to his doomed uncle Julius Caesar's command of the far-flung Roman empire. Surviving an assassination attempt and struck by news of the death of his old friend and ally, Agrippa (Ken Duken), in the same day, Octavius waxes nostalgic about his youthful exploits in Caesar's army (Benjamin Sadler plays the young Augustus in flashbacks) and his unprepared immersion in the deadly politics of the Mark Antony (Massimo Ghini) era. More immediate are Octavius' problems trying to stave off conspiracies by his wife Livia (Charlotte Rampling) to set up the emperor's stepson, Tiberius (Michele Bevilacqua), as heir, and talk his dutiful daughter Julia (Vittoria Belvedere) into a marriage she does not want. Roger Young directs this highly watchable costume drama, and O'Toole's golden presence makes the ancient intrigues tragically human. --Tom Keogh

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