Not to be confused with the TV series based on the 90s pop group of the same name, Cleopatra is historical epic featuring real life couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Mark Anthony and Cleopatra.
At over four hours, it’s not worth trying to summarise the plot, other than to say this about the various political manoeuvrings and conflicts of the leaders of Rome and Egypt during a particularly tumultuous period for both civilizations.
It probably doesn’t need saying that it could afford to lose about an hour. Less action packed than other comparable films, such as Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments, it focuses more on the politics. It benefits from superb performances and is always engaging, but there is simply too much for one film. The studio reportedly rejected calls to split it in two as they wanted to capitalise on the publicity generated by its stars’ affair. Oh, how things have changed.
Like other historical epics it straddles the line between history and fantasy – speculative history, if you like. But as someone not particularly well versed in the ancients, it gave an interesting introduction to a number of real life historical figures.
For much of the film we feel as if we’re on the side of the imperialists. Julius Ceaser is shown in a positive light, and his ambition to unite the world under his rule is shown as admirable (similar to the aim of the King in Hero). Cleopatra – a headstrong leader – is also petty and makes some questionable decisions, and overall there’s a sense of the personal squabbles of a few spilling out to affect the fate of millions. So probably a fair representation of history.
Like other epics of the era the scale is incredible, from the ginormous sets to epic sea battles, to a point which dazzles. Cleopatra really is comin’ at ya.