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Octavius Caesar (later renamed Augustus Caesar, son of the murdered Julius Caesar), Marc Antony, and Lepidus form the triumvirate, the three rulers of the Roman Empire. Antony, though married to Fulvia, spends his time in Egypt, living a life of decadence and conducting an affair with Queen Cleopatra. In Antony's absence, Caesar and Lepidus worry about Pompey's increasing strength. Caesar condemns Antony for neglecting his duties as a statesman and military officer. Hearing that his wife, Fulvia, has died and that Pompey is raising an army to rebel against the triumvirate, Antony feels he must return to Rome. Caesar and Antony try to patch up their quarrel through the marriage of Antony to Caesar's sister Octavia. In Egypt, Cleopatra is told that Antony has married and is furious with jealousy. However, when the messenger says that Octavia is not very beautiful, Cleopatra feels confident that she can win Antony back. The triumvirs meet Pompey, who agrees to keep peace in exchange for ... Written by
Fiona Kelleghan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
When shooting the scene with the snake, actress Jane Lapotaire, who was afraid of snakes even prior to the shoot, became quite panicked when the snake suddenly slithered down the back of her dress. See more »
The reputation of this performance is not good. The initial reviews were quite scathing. The competition from the Johnson/Suzman/Nunn version is decisive; the other version is better. However, there are many fine things about this video. Let's talk about them first.
Ian Charleson's Octavius Caesar is good, a schoolmaster with ice water in his veins. Many of the supporting players are quite fine. The almost completely blind Esmond Knight does a hilarious drunk scene as Lepidus, and Donald Sumpter gives Pompey a model reading.
The visuals are spare but more lushly colored than usual in the BBC series, giving a Mediterranean vividness to the whole show, even if lovers of spectacle will do better with the Taylor-Burton film.
Emrys James is less successful as Enobarbus. This part is generally considered actor-proof, but here James is charmless and without variation. His great speech describing Cleopatra's barge is completely ineffective. Whether the blame is his or the director's is lost to history, but I'm betting on Jonathan Miller's expressed annoyance with "tired" tradition.
However the real problem is with the two title characters. It's as if you'd gone to the theater, settled in your seat, and then heard an announcement that owing to the leads' illness, the actor playing Enobarbus would instead be playing Antony, and the actress playing Charmian would take on the role of Cleopatra.
Colin Blakely was a bright spot in many fine films during his career, but they were usually other peoples' films. Here he understands the character well enough and gives a good performance. He plays all the right notes, but he himself is the wrong instrument. He's simply not an Antony.
Jane Lapotaire is a bigger problem. Her portrayal of Cleopatra is small to the point of cramped, mechanical, calculating, and self-obsessed. A shopgirl's idea of a queen, she never strikes a single true note. In the first half of the play, she's merely wrong. In the second half she becomes an active trial for the viewer. When Antony is finally dead, instead of rising to greatness in understanding, she shrinks into dreary, unspontaneous hysteria. This is one Cleopatra who learns nothing from her experience. While she goes on and on shrieking and weeping, you wind up urging the snake to get on with it.
So it's not an out and out disaster, but with the poor casting of the two leads, the show never quite pulls itself together. Turn your attention immediately to the RSC version with Johnson and Suzman, and don't look back.
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