John Hurt's 10 Most Underrated Performances

1. Caligula - I, Claudius (1976)

Johnrnrnrnr There are so many fascinating characters in I, Claudius that it's hard to pick a favourite. There's Sian Phillips' cold and scheming Livia, George Baker's repressed and spineless Tiberius, Derek Jacobi's brilliant rendering of the stammering title character, or even Christopher Biggins as the childish Nero. But for pure, demented intimidation, equal parts ridiculous and terrifying, John Hurt's Caligula really takes the prize. I, Claudius is a 1976 BBC series based on the novels by Rupert Graves, which tells the story of several Roman emperors of the Claudian dynasty, beginning with Augustus (Brian Blessed) and finishing with Claudius himself. Structured like a mob drama or soap opera, with characters speaking in vernacular English, it's a highly compelling piece of drama which still holds up as one of the finest things the BBC has ever done. Hurt originally passed on the part of the mad emperor, believing, in his own words, that "the known world couldn't possibly be led by a lunatic of this nature." Having been persuaded by director Herbert Wise at a party, he took to it like a duck to water, embracing the grotesque nature of the character and bringing a terrifying energy to the middle of the series. Caligula is a character who is both completely insane and completely genuine: he has absolute power and no control, all of which makes for compelling viewing. Hurt is equally scary when he's screaming as when he's softly whispering, and he gives Malcolm McDowell's more infamous rendition a run for its money. Have I missed any great performances out? Drop me a comment below...
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Freelance copywriter, film buff, community radio presenter. Former host of The Movie Hour podcast (http://www.lionheartradio.com/ and click 'Interviews'), currently presenting on Phonic FM in Exeter (http://www.phonic.fm/). Other loves include theatre, music and test cricket.

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