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I was in high school when I saw this version of "Antony
Cleopatra" on the short-lived, occasional "ABC Theatre" on
US ABC television network. I had read Shakespeare in English
Literature class, of course, and had even attended some
productions of Shakespeare plays, but seeing this production
totally changed my view of the Bard, even theatre in general.
This was the first time I ever watched a play and felt as
I was watching something real, viewing snippets of life
progress. The actors weren't mouthing lines and feigning
emotions - they were real and they believed, and that made
me believe as well.
Perhaps the intervening years have affected my memory, dimming the details, but I cannot forget the awe I felt watching Patrick Stewart's Enobarbus. When I had read the play in school, Enobarbus was a minor character, and his speeches weren't important. Stewart's performance changed that. Now the role was central, and his descent from cheer to madness was a mirror of his world. Cleopatra's knowing chuckle as she spoke of her "salad days" was a lament as well a whimsey.
At that age, I may have been ripe for a change in my world view, but I cannot deny that it was "Antony and Cleopatra" that provided it. Ever since I have compared my response to a performance to that I felt from this production. Patrick Stewart has certainly gone on to "bigger and better" things in the last quarter century, but for me he'll always be Enobarbus, the man who defined Shakespeare for me.
Though the acting from the Royal Shakespeare company is first rate,
this version of Antony and Cleopatra is little more than a photographed
stage play. And a bit long for the cinema at that.
The title roles are played well by Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman. The story has been told three times in contemporary verse in the cinema by Theda Bara, Claudette Colbert, and Elizabeth Taylor as the seductive Queen of Egypt who tried to bend one too many conquerors to her will by use of her legendary charms.
William Shakespeare's Mark Antony was a principal character in two of his plays, Julius Caesar where he skillfully picked up the leadership of his late patriarch Caesar and routed the conspirators who assassinated the legendary conqueror.
To give legitimacy to his enterprise, Antony was forced into partnership with Octavian Caesar, Julius's grandnephew and a legion commander Lepidus made the triumvir of three. This play is a story of the dissolution of that partnership caused in no small part by Cleopatra.
Sex may have more a part in Antony and Cleopatra than in any other work of Shakespeare. Historians might very well argue that Mark Antony was using Cleopatra as his entrée to gaining alliances with various Roman dependencies in a power play against Octavian. But Shakespeare was no doubt titillating his 16th century audience with the tales of Cleopatra's erotic technique. Ahenobarbus, Antony's good friend played here by Patrick Stewart, says that while Octavia's sister's a pretty thing, when you get entangled with Cleopatra, she's so good that men are never satisfied, they keep hungering for more.
So that's the reason why Antony instead of tending to business and keeping an eye on Octavian gradually loses support in Rome where it really counts. The guy who was so shrewd in Julius Caesar in Antony and Cleopatra is just a love struck fool. It's the basis for his tragedy.
As for Cleopatra, three times wasn't the charm. Julius Caesar and Mark Antony may have succumbed although there is debate about who was using who. But in Octavian as played here by Corin Redgrave is all about business.
I was interested in the difference between Ahenobarbus in Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra which starred Claudette Colbert and the way Shakespeare writes him and Stewart plays him. In the DeMille film, Ahenobarbus is played by C. Aubrey Smith as a stout old soldier who finds it a matter of conscience to leave Antony and support his beloved Roman Empire which he sees embodied now in Octavian. Patrick Stewart's Ahenobarbus is far more of an opportunist who makes a calculated move at the right time.
The money here was spent on talent with the people mentioned and the others in the cast from the Royal Shakespeare Company. Down the cast list you'll find Ben Kingsley in a minor role. Look also for a very touching performance by Rosemary McHale as Charmian, Cleopatra's faithful handmaiden who makes the last journey with her.
This version of Antony and Cleopatra is not a movie per se, it lacks the production values of one. The Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra had the spectacle to go with the acting. This one succeeds on talent alone.
The Royal Shakespeare Company's 1974 production of William
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, though a slightly truncated
version, stands out among Shakespeare interpretations on film for the
quality of the direction and the convincing nature of the performances
that bring the main protagonists to life as three-dimensional human
beings. Produced by Trevor Nunn and directed by Jon Scofield, the film
stars Richard Johnson as the full-bearded Roman statesman/warrior Mark
Antony and Janet Suzman as the voluptuous Egyptian Queen Cleopatra
whose seductive allure may have changed world history. Though filmed
entirely in a TV studio with extensive use of close-ups, the RSC
interpretation is a riveting and involving experience, especially in
contrast to the vastly inferior BBC performance of 1981 (I have not
seen the Charlton Heston version recently reviewed here).
There is no commonly accepted date of publication for Antony and Cleopatra, although most orthodox historians favor the date of 1607 since it was first entered with the Stationers' Register in 1608. There is, however, no compelling evidence to support that date. The play was not performed until at least 1607, perhaps because Cleopatra, the ruler of Egypt, bore striking resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I who died in 1603. Cleopatra, according to Dr. Ren Draya of Blackburn College calls Cleopatra "larger than life", a woman who cannot be explained but can only be felt. "She is a woman who stands for power but at the end gains lyricism and achieves nobility." Indeed, according to one reviewer, "Antony and Cleopatra is an unusual tragedy in that its protagonists start out flawed and gradually grow to heroic stature over the course of the play." According to Professor Michael Delahoyde of Washington State University, Cleopatra is suggestive of Queen Elizabeth 1, a "drama queen" who used her feminine wiles to gain political advantage. Perhaps that is the reason why the play was not performed until after the Queen's death, if indeed it had been written prior to that event. Shakespeare is mostly faithful to his source material, Plutarch's Lives, though he concentrates on the relationship between Anthony and Cleopatra and ignores some of the historical events reported by Plutarch. Antony alone is a tragic hero in the Plutarch chronicles but, in Shakespeare, Cleopatra is invested with an equally tragic character and soul-searching introspection, delivering eloquent soliloquies that can be compared to those of the most powerful Shakespearean male protagonists.
Shakespeare makes no moral judgment at all on either of the main characters and allows the audience the freedom to become emotionally invested in the drama without being spoon fed the prevalent Puritan morality as in the high moral tone of Mary Sidney Herbert's free translation of Garnier's Antoine, published in 1590. The story revolves around Antony's decision to provide free rein to his impulses by courting the Queen of Egypt rather than carrying out his soldierly duties in Rome and the consequences of such. Antony, who was one of the ruling triumvirates of Rome along with Octavius known as Augustus Ceasar (Corin Redgrave) and Lepidus (Raymond Westwell), is summoned back to Rome where he makes a deal with Ceasar to marry his widowed sister Octavia (Mary Rutherford) and return to fight Rome's battles against the aggressive Pompey.
Not willing to give up his Egyptian connection, however, Antony unleashes a civil war against Ceasar but is defeated at Actium after many of his trusted men including his close friend Enobarbus (Patrick Stewart) desert him and his reputation begins to decline sharply. Meanwhile, Cleopatra is torn between saving her life and protecting her children by supporting Caesar or remaining loyal to the defeated Antony. Both unfortunately meet a tragic end that can only be called "Shakespearean" in its noble grandeur.
No, if you want spectacle, get the Taylor/Burton and forget about
Shakespeare. This DVD wins on the Royal Shakespeare Company's deep
bench and Trevor Nunn's meticulous direction. All do well with the
verse, and there is none of the glaring miscasting that strangles the
BBC version from 1981.
Richard Johnson was briefly married to Kim Novak. He also turned down the role of James Bond because he didn't want to be trapped in a long term contract. Here he hides his good looks behind a thick beard, and if he is not as grand as Antony might be, he's certainly got most of it right. Janet Suzman braves the considerable difficulties of Cleopatra without ever becoming unbearable, which you can't say of her competition. Octavius is played by Corin Redgrave, who once again projects his father's perpetual air of irritable grievance minus the family charm.
Patrick Stewart as Enobarbus pounds his competition to dust, and Ben Kingsley and Tim Pigott-Smith in minor roles are testimony to the strength of the company. Philip Locke and Derek Godfrey also make strong impressions.
This version is shot entirely in a TV studio, now a lost and unfamiliar art form. There are virtually no constructed sets. The actors are usually in limbo, with perhaps some waving gauzes, or diffusion on the lens. This may confuse some viewers who need literal settings, but it frees the rest of us to concentrate on the people, the plot and the poetry. Shakespeare is not about architecture; the movies do that better.
Until the Caedmon audio recording with Anthony Quayle and Pamela Brown resurfaces, this DVD is the best way to absorb a packaged version of Shakespeare's play.
Antony and Cleopatra (1974) follows the relationship of Marc Anthony and Cleopatra.It dates from the time of the Parthian war to Cleopatra's suicide with a snake.William Shakespeare is the author of the play this movie is based on.He is believed to have written that around 1606-1607.I read the play a little while before I borrowed the VHS from the library.It's not the finest works by the Bard but good anyway.This TV movie is something very average.It works mainly because of the fine performances the actors give.There's some strength in the performance by Richard Johnson who plays Marc Antony.Janet Suzman is wonderful as the Queen of Eqypt.Patrick Stewart is really good as Enobarbus.The way he turns and talks straight to camera is just magnificent.It's also a real treat to see the young Ben Kingsley as Thidias.The drama works from time to time.There's a lot of that in the end.So this was worth seeing.
Good acting in this version; however, as befits a lower-budget television version, the sets are awful. This makes it harder for the actors to convince the viewers that they are indeed watching a story taking place in Rome or Egypt. Thankfully the actors are able to overcome this obstacle in most scenes. Patrick Stewart shines as Enobarbus. He really communicates the strong friendship between him and Antony, and how troubling it is to leave foolish Antony for Caesar's army. I had to blink twice after seeing the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air butler Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell) in a small role. Janet Suzman plays the role of Cleopatra well. Suzman isn't as beautiful as one might expect for an actress portraying Cleopatra, but she exhibits the powerful sensuality that surrounds the character.
This movie altogether made me lose faith in humanity. Most movies are set to stun you with good acting,or at least some acting. This movie, however, was set to painfully vaporize the viewer! It wasn't fast, like a good phaser, but slowly tortures anyone hit by it into nonexistence. This movie would be best described as a steaming pile of horse excrement laced with ebola-zaire. Cleopatra terrified me in this film. Not only was Octavia, the one who was supposed to be plain, more attractive than her, but is also a better actor for the simple reason that I didn't have to listen to her for very long. I have just seriously fallen from my chair thinking about having to watch more of this movie! If I was able to give a negative star rating to this movie, all the stars in the cosmos would not express my hatred for this movie.
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