Augustus (rated R) is a made-for-television movie directed by Roger Young. It is an Italian production by RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana. This was in English. However, many of the lines were dubbed in to avoid dialogs of English with Italian accents. These were noticeable, but tolerable and certainly not distracting.
Augustus is about the life of Octavian (b. 63 B.C.) , the legal son and specified heir to Gaius Julius Caesar (reign 49–44 B.C.). As Roman Emperor (27 B.C.–14 A.D.) he would call himself “Augustus.” The month Sextilis was re-named August in his honor.
Well, if you are not familiar with this period of Roman history, then viewing this movie will most likely be overwhelming in terms of keeping track of who’s who and their relationships. The first of three hours covers essentially the same period that HBO’s series Rome: Season 1 covered.
In Augustus, an elderly Octavian (Peter O’Toole) recounts his life to his daughter Julia (Vittoria Belvedere). Extended “flashback” scenes are interspersed with real-time events, most notably, the question of Octavian choosing his successor. This question has plagued nearly every period of Roman history.
Augustus was neither a vacuous “swords and sandals” film nor a CGI-inspired “epic battle” film. Rather, it was a historical drama that, not surprisingly, focused on the prominent women of this period, e.g. Tiberias’ mother Livia (Charolette Rampling and Martina Stella), Cleopatra of Egypt (Anna Valle), and Octavian’s sister Octavia (Elena Ballesteros).
For the first hour, I thought the casting of young Octavian (Benjamin Sadler) was poor but as the film went along he really grew into his role. Perhaps this was simply a reflection of Octavian maturing into Augustus.
This was an ambitious movie with much material to cover. As such not everything could be covered in detail. For the most part it covered the significant events well. I was disappointed that the significant naval Battle of Actium (31 B.C.) in which Octavian defeated Mark Antony (Massimo Ghini) and Cleopatra was just about glossed over in favor of presenting the previous alliance of Octavian and Antony at Brundisi:
Octavian: The madness
Antony: I will kill you myself.
Octavian: My sword is in my sheath. Strike. The soldiers are wiser than their generals. These are not two armies. This is one nation. No more Roman blood Antony. An alliance. I will give you half of my men to defeat Parthia. You swore before the senate that you would conquer Rome’s enemies.
Antony: Can I trust you?
Octavian: Can I trust you?
Antony: No one will believe it.
Octavian: True. We need a sign. A demonstration of our pact. Will you give up Cleopatra? Rome fears her most.
Antony: No. But I will take a Roman wife to show my loyalty.
Octavian: My sister. There is not better woman to demonstrate our alliance.
Augustus overall was a good presentation of the life of Octavian. However, it should not be approached as a primer for this period of history. O’Toole’s acting was a bit over-dramatic. Rampling as Octavian’s wife Livia certainly stole the show, as often “scheming women” do. Just as in HBO’s Rome, Mark Antony, was well cast.
Augustus certainly “earned” its R rating. The battlefield blood was tolerable. There was no nudity but very scantily clad women abounded. The film ends by noting “in the 23rd year of his reign in the province of Judea Jesus of Nazareth was born.”