In 48 B.C., Julius Caesar (Sir Rex Harrison) pursues Pompey from Pharsalia to Egypt. Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII (Richard O'Sullivan), now supreme ruler after deposing his older sister, Cleopatra VII (Dame Elizabeth Taylor), attempts to gain favor with Caesar by presenting the conquerer with the head of Pompey, borne by his governors, Pothinus (Grégoire Aslan) and Achillas (John Doucette). To win Caesar's support from her brother, Cleopatra hides herself in a rug, which Apollodorus (Cesare Danova), her servant, presents to Caesar. The Roman is immediately infatuated. Banishing Ptolemy, he declares Cleopatra Egypt's sole ruler and takes her as his mistress. A son, Caesarion (Loris Loddi), is born of their union. Caesar, however, must return to Italy. Although he is briefly reunited with Cleopatra during a magnificent reception for the Queen in Rome, Caesar is assassinated shortly thereafter, and Cleopatra returns to Egypt. When Mark Antony (Richard Burton), Caesar's protégé, beholds Cleopatra...Written by
The asp used for the finale scene was not venom free. See more »
When Cleopatra's boat approaches the shore, the white translucent curtains are pulled open. In a view from the shore, they are still closed. See more »
And so it fell out that at Pharsalia, the great might and manhood of Rome met in bloody civil war, and Caesar's legions destroyed those of the great Pompey... So, that now only Caesar stood at the head of Rome. But, there was no joy for Caesar as in his other triumphs... for the dead which his legions counted and buried and burned were their own countrymen.
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Premiered at a length of 243 minutes. A week after the premiere, the film was reduced to 222 minutes, and edited further to 194 minutes for general release. The 194-minute version was the default broadcast television version for years; home video and cable television releases are of the full-length cut. See more »
A massively troubled production combined with the extraordinary love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made for plenty of hype.
But what really matters nearly 40 years on is the film itself.
At this distance it is possible to see the film for what it is. A grand example of the final flowering of Hollywood.
In 1963 it seemed old fashioned compared to the excitement of European cinema and what the critics perceived as new (many of their favourite films of that era now just seem dated and pretentious).
But Cleopatra grows in stature with time.
It is far from flawless. And certainly the second half is somehow not right. Whether the missing two hours will reclaim this part of the film is yet to be seen.
But compared with Gladiator or similar modern epics, Cleopatra is a brilliant film with an intelligent script, stunning design, masterly and beautiful cinematography in 70mm (which sure beats 35mm and does justice to the intricate sets and design), an evocative and effective musical score and superb costumes and makeup.
The big three, Taylor, Burton and Harrison are extremely good and in the case of Harrison, who has many of the best lines, brilliant.
The supporting cast and especially Roddy McDowall are equally excellent.
Cleopatra may not be a masterpiece but it is a superbly crafted and beautiful film.
If it fails, it fails because of our expectations.
Sit back, put your feet up and luxuriate in a quality of film-making that you simply don't see today! .... but I have always wondered what Miss Taylor thinks of this extraordinary film?
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