Augustus: The First Emperor

Season 1
In 42 B.C. Rome is in the middle of a civil war. Together with his friend Agrippa, the young Augustus goes to Spain in order to help Julius Caesar in his struggle against the troops of Pompey. Even though they are outnumbered, they manage to defeat Pompey. There, Augustus hears the news of Caesar's assassination and he returns to Rome with his friends.
Peter O'TooleCharlotte RamplingVittoria Belvedere
English [CC]
Audio languages
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  1. 1. Part 1
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    January 1, 2003
    1 h 29 min
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    In 42 B.C. Rome is in the middle of a civil war. Together with his friend Agrippa, the young Augustus goes to Spain in order to help Julius Caesar in his struggle against the troops of Pompey. Even though they are outnumbered, they manage to defeat Pompey. There, Augustus hears the news of Caesar's assassination and he returns to Rome with his friends.
  2. 2. Part 2
    Watch on supported devices
    January 1, 2003
    1 h 27 min
    English [CC]
    Audio languages
    In 42 BC Rome is in the middle of a civil war. Together with his friend Agrippa, the young Augustus goes to Spain in order to help Julius Caesar in his struggle against the troops of Pompey. Even though they are outnumbered, they manage to defeat Pompey. There, Augustus hears the news of Caesar's assassination and he returns to Rome with his friends.

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Roger Young
Supporting actors
Benjamin SadlerKen DunkenGottfried JohnJuan Diego Botto
Ferdinand DohnaLuca BernabeiMatilde Bernabei
Season year
Multicom Entertainment Gour (MEG)
Content advisory
Alcohol usefoul languagesexual contentviolence
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3.5 out of 5 stars

422 global ratings

  1. 40% of reviews have 5 stars
  2. 19% of reviews have 4 stars
  3. 13% of reviews have 3 stars
  4. 10% of reviews have 2 stars
  5. 18% of reviews have 1 stars
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Top reviews from the United States

MoldyoldieReviewed in the United States on July 12, 2005
4.0 out of 5 stars
Worthy of Comparison to "I, Claudius", But Certainly Not Its Equal
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I came by this DVD through Amazon's links ("If you like this, you may also like....") and reading the reviews on this site. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this made-for-television drama.

Frankly, I come to any filmed historical drama with a sense that the actual history will always be "bent" to fit the narrative point-of-view, so any omissions or embellishments of fact and character don't bother me unless they are egregious enough to ruin the entire enterprise. I don't think that's the case here. Historical dramas bring the characters to life and are great points of departure for further serious study. Besides, as others have pointed out, it's fun to compare and contrast with other dramas depicting the same subject matter.

Watching the young and old Augustus in juxtaposed scenes was fascinating; one can easily see how the one grew to be the other.

The very first thing that struck me visually was the blazingly colorful garb of the teeming Roman populace as the elder Augustus was strolling through the stark white marble Forum. Is this an embellishment of fact? If so, it certainly made for a visually exhilarating scene.

Other scenes and visual cues are equally stunning:

-The beautiful waterfall which the young Octavius and Agrippa pass on their way to Gaul and from which an older Agrippa will eventually build a massive aquaduct to feed the city of Rome.

-The encampment, massing, and marching of Caesar's legions in Gaul as they prepare to do battle with the forces of Sextus.

-The dark streets and back alleys of Rome where the young Octavius first sets eyes upon a vibrant young Livia and rescues her from waylay.

-The beautiful halls and baths of the imperial residence.

-The interior and exterior of the Senate, bathed in marble and clean white senatorial togas.

-The Roman Forum itself, though of a scale smaller than one is used to seeing in older big budget epics. I still found it magnificent.

-The face-off between the armies of Augustus and Mark Antony against a backdrop of the crashing rocky Mediterranean shore.

-The ice baths which were prescribed for the elderly Augustus and which chilled this passive viewer to the bone.

-The visual interplay of the "three young amigos"--Augustus, Agrippa, and Maecenas--which was always well-shot and acted. Very entertaining!

-The placing of the smiling death mask by Livia on the dying Augustus; a shot that bookends the production to fine effect.

These are but a few of the beautifully staged and filmed scenes to be found in this presentation. It certainly wasn't lost on the filmmakers that television is a "visual" medium.

However, I must echo other reviewers on the staging of the one actual battle scene. When Ceasar's army was approaching the garrison of Sextus, I was fully expecting the army to form the "testudo", or tortoise formation, in defense against Sextus' initial volley of arrows. It didn't happen. Instead, Caesar's initial wave was slaughtered wholesale. Hardened legionaries dying by having their scutum shields outstretched to their sides leaving themselves fully exposed defies all credibility, especially in close-up. Very poorly done. Caesar's army should know better!

Also, when the armies of Mark Antony and Augustus face-off by the sea, the verbal recognition of family members on the opposing army felt way too contrived. Whether or not it actually happened this way is immaterial. When Antony's army refused to fight...well...the scene may have served a purpose in the narrative but it certainly didn't serve cogency. If Grant and Lee were commanding these armies it would've been a different story!

I have no problem with any of the acting or soapish political machinations. Peter O'Toole and Charlotte Rampling were great as the imperial couple. The supporting cast served the narrative well. Next stop, the history books!

All told, a "thumbs up" and four stars. Any fan of the period should enjoy this.
5 people found this helpful
Doy VirginiaReviewed in the United States on January 26, 2015
4.0 out of 5 stars
A surprisingly entertaining and engaging movie!
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Previous reviewers who gave positive reviews have already stated much more eloquently than I could the positive aspects of this movie. I am going to just add some notes as to what made it an entertaining film for me to watch:

Despite being nearly 3 hours in length, I found myself drawn into the story. The acting is quite good and some of the Italian actors were very good. One of the standouts was Massimo Ghini. His impressive portrayal of Mark Antony captures perfectly the soldierly toughness, the intelligence, the devotion to Roman duty, and the ultimate foolishness of what the real Mark Antony must have been like.

The North African locations really add to the visual impact.

The exterior depictions of Rome are not as elaborate as in some other movies. But they are adequate. As an Italian tv production they obviously didn't have the budget for blockbuster movie CGI f/x. However this is more than made up for by the elaborate and careful detail that is evident in the smaller scenes. I watched this on a 12 foot home theater screen, and if at all possible you should see it on as big a screen as you can manage. It is obvious the production went through a great deal of care to accurately reproduce the everyday objects that Romans used. For example, in Augustus's study, if you look in the background the various scrolls in his library have little tags hanging frm the scrolls. This is exactly how the Romans labled their scrolls, because the early empire didn't have the side bound books we have today. Look closely at the background of many of the scenes filmed in Augustus's palace. The details of the frescoes and Roman architecture are elaborate!

The scenes with Mark Anthony and Cleopatra were especially engaging.

The music for the movie is exquisite and surprisingly moving. The end title theme is great!

I would recommend this film for anyone who is interested in the people and history of this time. Sure--some of the history is abridged, but the movie covers nearly 50 years in the life of one of history's greatest rulers. Some things had to be left out.
Michael C. SmithReviewed in the United States on February 3, 2005
4.0 out of 5 stars
Every Family Has Its Ups and Downs
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"Augustus" is far better than I had expected it to be. Not as in-depth in covering the life of the once Octavius who became Augustus the first Emperor of Rome as "I Claudius" is. This Italian television mini-series never the less is quite respectable as an entertainment.
The strong points of the production are the wonderfully accurate sets, both interior and exterior. The reconstruction of the Forum is incredibly accurate if a little too small in some of its scale. The interiors of the house of Augustus is both stunning in the details of the wall paintings and furnishing and appropriately small and cramped as are the remains of "Liva's House" on the Palatine in Rome. The art directors do a wonderful job in creating the feel of the late republic and the early empire of the Pax Romana.
Peter O'Toole is simply brilliant in his role of the old Augustus and dominates the screen with all the power and vigor that he did over forty years ago in "Laurence of Arabia". He is mesmerizing.
Charlotte Rampling is cool and calculating as Livia, wife to Augustus. Still a beautiful actress she stands toe to toe with O'Toole and holds her own.
Canadian born actor Benjamin Sadler is a vibrant talent who rounds out the role of the young Augusts. He is a fine young actor, who has mostly worked in Europe, deservers to be noticed by American audiences in the future.
Victoria Belvedere is a stunningly beautiful if somewhat innocent Julia. She is reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer and just as arresting. Italian actor, Massimo Ghini is impressive in the role of Mark Antony. Finally someone understands the mixture of brawn and brains that was Antony.
The only disappointment I have with the film is the shoddy and cheap first battle sequence. But one must understand how difficult such recreations are and how this challenge cannot always be met on limited budget of television over the movies.
"Augustus" is not the whole story but a good part of it is represented and well worth the time it takes to watch. And it is fun as well, proving that drama and soap have been making loads of suds for thousands of years and that every family has it's ups and downs
52 people found this helpful
Kirk H SowellReviewed in the United States on May 7, 2011
1.0 out of 5 stars
Neither entertaining nor educational
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To have some redeeming value period films need to either be entertaining with limited artistic liberties or, if not entertaining, then at least educational. This film is neither, and it is odd that Peter O'Toole granted his presence to it. The acting - aside that of O'Toole's - is dull and the dialogue is unimaginative.

What is worse is that the history is so bad. Artistic liberties are one thing, but this film gets many basic historical points wrong. Begin with the fact that no one in the early first century would have viewed Mark Antony's (Marcus Antonius) legacy as one of defense of the republic - even among those who didn't like Augustus, they admired Brutus and Cato, not Antony. One of the most bizarre historical errors - because it so large and difficult to understand - is the presentation that the civil war was ended by Caesar's victory over a general named Sextus in Spain (it was Octavian who had to beat Sextus, and in Sicily). Actually, it ended with Caesar's victory over first Pompey Magnus in Greece (a momentous event not mentioned at all in the movie) and then over his remaining allies in North Africa, where's Cato's suicide sealed the end. Caesar did have to defeat Pompeian legions in Spain, but they were commanded by three men: Marcus Terentius Varro, Marcus Petreius and Lucius Afranius. The Spanish front was concluded before the others. Also, Octavius (the main character) was a teenager when Caeser died, not in his 20s, as shown here. He was also not a commoner, although he was from the lower classes of the aristocracy.

The extremely positive manner in which Augustus' uncle, Caius Julius Caesar, is portrayed is also hard to understand, except purely as a memory distorted in the retelling. Some elements are true - Caesar was known for his clemency and his championing of the lower classes. He was also a leader of great talent and intelligence. Yet he was also immensely corrupt, and showed no hesitation toward political violence when it suited him. These traits were not uncommon, of course, but he was hardly the champion of "government for all people" the movie portrays him to be.
10 people found this helpful
Dim DandyReviewed in the United States on March 12, 2008
1.0 out of 5 stars
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I'm always suspicious of one-star reviews. It sounds like somebody has an axe to grind. I read some negative reviews about this movie but I bought it anyway. (Used, fortunately, at a low price.) Well. A one-star movie this definitely is. It has "made-for-TV" and "low-budget" written all over it. The sets vary in quality from pretty good to really bad (a Roman camp looks kind of like a corrugated pole barn without a roof). The acting is wooden, to put it mildly. But the really bad part is the script. It's about ninety percent speeches. By that I mean that everything everyone says is a stock cliche, like "The greatness of Rome is more important than the greatness of our family!" At no point does anyone say anything unexpected or funny or interesting or striking. Cliched speech after cliched speech.

Another really unpleasant thing about this movie is the painfully obvious way that all of the sound was re-done after the filming. It always seems like you're watching a movie whose images are disconnected from the sound. And the sound effects are relentlessly bad. When troops are digging, there is a perfectly rhythmic clinking sound. When small children are playing, they simply keep saying, "Yay! Yay! Yay!" When Augustus has a cough, boy does he have a cough. It's hard to put this into words, but if you see the movie, you'll know what I mean. Plus, throughout the movie there is a symphonic score playing, vague and repetitive and not at all interesting, sounding suspiciously like the kind of symphonic soundtrack you'd hear while playing a computer game about Rome.

At least a game lets you turn the music off!

It's the awful, clunking script, along with the awful, clunking soundtrack, that really doom this movie. It's hard to say whether the actors are really as bad as they seem, or if they were in a hopeless situation.

I watched about two-thirds of this monstrosity before I finally gave up. I kept hoping there would be at least a few scenes that would relieve the tedium.

13 people found this helpful
AllalbumsReviewed in the United States on June 12, 2014
4.0 out of 5 stars
Augustus. Could a great politician in Rome to be a humanist?
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Great movie! We see Augustus with his friend Agrippa, when young and naive men are trying to improve Rome. Then step by step he becomes a brilliant politician, but also a person who is trying to be a humanist, he does't want to kill a son of one of his opponents, who was killed by his order, Still, with his girl he is more a politician then a father. He wants her to understand that her marriage must serve Rome and not her feelings, he wants Rome to continue to be a great Republic and for that he needs a heir. It's interesting that his desire to spare son of his enemy could change the course of history, so check it for your self, it worth your time.
One person found this helpful
TeresaReviewed in the United States on January 26, 2016
3.0 out of 5 stars
which was excellent. So in my mind
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Recently, I watched ROME, which was excellent. So in my mind, this movie was not what I expected and also it did not present the truth as events happened and even the roles of the characters were not the same as ROME. In ROME, Julia was in love with Marc Anthony and they had a relationship. When Marc Anthony left Rome and went to Egypt, he had an affair with Cleopatra, which destroyed Julia. None of this was shown in this movie. I was disappointed but maybe for it's time, this movie was 3 stars/
Capite RuberReviewed in the United States on June 12, 2007
3.0 out of 5 stars
Classic story told for the masses.
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As a student of Classics I was eager to see this film. Peter O'toole has always been a favorite of mine.. This film however, is watered down and shot for the masses.. Not a lot of attention to detail is played out in this release. Besides O'toole the acting is rather mediocre. It seems they grabbed a few extras from a Renaissance festival to fill the rolls.. If you want to see a hisorical portrayal of Octavian/Augustus, rent or buy ROME - 1st and 2nd season. HBO did a fabulous job!
5 people found this helpful
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