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1960s, Drama - Historic

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra

Duration 3h 12m Rating (UK) A
Source of story The actual relationships between Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Cleopatra and a book by C.M. Franzero.
Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Writers/Script Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, George Cole, Hume Cronyn, Kenneth Haigh, Martin Landau, Roddy McDowall, Francesca Annis, Michael Hordern, Richard O’Sullivan, John Alderton, Desmond Llewelyn, Jean Marsh,

Elevator Pitch: In 48 BC Julius Caesar is in Egypt for Roman reasons and, subverting her brother’s authority, Cleopatra concealed in a rug is transported to Caesar’s accommodation, so that she can influence him. They become an item up to the time when Julius Caesar is stabbed to death in the senate, and they have a son between them. Thereafter Mark Antony, as leader of a ruling triumverate searches out the assassins and has them killed. Cleopatra sails to a meeting with him and gets him to visit her in Egypt. There after their lives are irrevocably entwined.

Content: There is no nudity although there are occassional scantily clad entertainers and Cleopatra’s cleavage is centre screen. Mark Antony seems to be on the booze a lot. There a numerous extraordinary set pieces, and we should remember that this film was made before the days of CGI. One scene aparently employed 7000 extras. The set pieces included a Roman Triumph featuring Cleopatra and her son and an event on a large ship as well as an elaborate sea battle overlooked on a cliff top by Cleopatra and her supporters, who moved model ships about and set fire to them as the real ones burnt.

A View: The section of the movie depicting Julius Casar was frankly a bit tepid despite the magnificent sets and costumes, but it livened up quite a bit once he had been stabbed to death and Mark Antony replaced him in Cleopatra’s affections.  Of course this is only my view, others thought that the quality of the film was in the first, Julius Caesar, half. Either way it is probably essential viewing for all students of cinema, particularly considering its troubles during production which are maybe more exciting than the actual movie, and if it comes to that so was Cleopatra’s real history.

Additional info: What we see today is a wonderfully restored version which was released in 2013, the fiftieth anniverary of what was then the most expensive movie ever made.

About Victor R Gibson

Author of this site three technical books and two novels

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