Imperium: Augustus (2003)




Director:  Roger Young. 

Starring:  Peter O'Toole (Augustus Caesar), Charlotte Rampling (Livia Drusilla), Vittoria Belvedere (Julia Caesaris), Benjamin Sadler (Gaius Octavius/Young Augustus), Gottfried John (Cicero), Ken Duken (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), Russell Barr (Gaius Maecenas), Alexander Strobele (ucius Tutilius), Anna Valle (Cleopatra), Massimo Ghini (Mark Antony), Juan Diego Botto (Iullus Antonius), Martina Stella (Young Livia), Elena Ballesteros (Octavia), Michele Bevilacqua (Tiberius), Valeria D'Obici (Atia).


Good movie. 

The movie opens in Rome, 12 B.C.  Augustus Octavius Caesar rules Rome with his wife Livia and step-son Tiberius at his side.  He is happy playing with his grandsons Gaius and Lucius by his biological daughter Julia (by his first wife).  He speaks of having successfully maintained thirty years of peace in the Roman Empire.  Even with such a great record, someone attempts to kill him. 

Then Augustus receives news that his son-in-law, his best friend Marcus Agrippa, is dead of fever.  Then begins a series of flashbacks mixing the present and the past, beginning in 45 B.C..  Octavius (as Augustus was known as a youth) remembers he and his friend Marcus touring Rome on the evening before they were to be escorted to the battlefield in Spain to join his Uncle Julius Caesar to fight the nobles led by Sextus. In Rome he and his friend save the beautiful Livia Drusilla from some ruffians and he becomes enthralled with the young woman.  But she refuses to see him again because her father, a Roman nobleman, has told her that Julius Caesar wants to destroy the Roman nobles.

Back to the present, Augustus's wife Livia wants her son, Tiberius, to become emperor of Rome following the death of Augustus.  But Augustus wants one of his grandsons to succeed him.  Julia is in love with Lullus (the son of Marc Antony), but Augustus will not permit such a marriage because Marc Antony was his enemy and the son wants revenge for his father's death.  Instead, Julia must marry her step-brother Tiberius (after he is forced to get a divorce) in order to assure a smooth transition of power.  Both Julia and Tiberius do not like this idea.

Another flashback shows Julius Caesar back in Rome proclaiming a general amnesty and announcing that the civil war is over.  He introduces Queen Cleopatra of Egypt to a gathered throng, but they turn their backs on the foreigner.  Meanwhile, Octavius is sent to Macedonia to become a soldier.  While there he learns that Caesar has been murdered and that the evil-doers Cassius, Brutus and Decimus have fled.  Decimus has six legions of soldiers in Gaul. 

Even more bad news comes when Octavius learns that the beautiful Livia must marry the rich Claudius.  Livia advises Octavius to do similarly and marry a rich woman of a powerful family.  Disenchanted, Octavius marries the wealthy Scribonia Flavia (and has a daughter Julia by her). 

Octavius moves against the scheming Marc Antony having him declared an enemy of Rome in the Senate.  To cement his rising control over power in Rome, the Macedonian legions under Agrippa march into the Senate to support Octavius.  Realizing that he still does not have enough power to take on the team of Cassius, Brutus and Decimus, Octavius makes a pact with Antony and Lepidis to work together.  Antony convinces Octavius that they must resort to prosciption  -- publicly publishing the names of their enemies so that anyone can kill them.  Then Agrippa helps lead a campaign of extermination of the men on the list of enemies, including the well-known orator Cicero.

Rome now declares war on Cassius, Brutus and Decimus.  Octavius, Agrippa, Antony and Lepidus win a victory at Philippi.  Soon afterwards, Octavius, Antony and Lepidus form a triumvirate to rule Rome.  Lepidus is then sent to Africa to govern and Antony to conquer Parthia, while Octavius stays in Rome to rule.

Back to the present.  Tiberius marries Julia and Augustus immediately sends him off to the Germani frontier. 

Another flashback continues the story of Octavius.  He meets Livia again.  Meanwhile, Cleopatra has hooked up with Marc Antony and demands that Antony kill Octavius.  Antony brings 200 wars ships filled with legionnaires to Brundisium.  There he meets the forces under Octavius and Agrippa. But the two Roman forces refuse to fight against each other.  Given the military stand-off, Octavius proposes an alliance with Antony.  He will give Antony half his men to help him conquer Parthia and in return, to show his commitment to the agreement, Antony agrees to marry the sister of Octavius, Octavia. 

Octavius and Antony may have been happy with the alliance, but Cleopatra is very unhappy.  She forces Antony to divorce Octavia (after they have a child, Lullus).  Once Antony breaks the alliance, Octavius and Antony meet in a naval battle at Actium, in which Antony is defeated.  Antony commits suicide, followed by the suicide of Cleopatra. 

And back to the present.  Tiberius comes back from the front after he receives reports of Julia's public flaunting of her adultery with Lullus.  He swears that he will kill Lullus and while following the intended victim, discovers that Lullus plans to kill Augustus.  Tiberius tells his mother Livia of the plot and she suggests that they let the assassins kill Augustus and then Tiberius will kill the assassins, thereby setting up Tiberius as the hero and the next ruler of Rome. 

Is Livia so cold-hearted that she will let her husband be killed by the assassins?  If so, will Tiberius become the next ruler of Rome?  And what will be Julia's reaction if her Lullus is killed by Tiberius?

This is a very complicated story and it is made more complicated by the switching back and forth from the present to the past and back to the present.  Given the difficulties set before the movie, it does a good job of being understood.  Of course, it helps having seen other movies about Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Marc Antony, which I have.  Peter O'Toole and Charlotte Rampling are great as Augustus and Livia.    

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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