Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Running Time: 246 mins
Cleopatra is an American film about the epic story of Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, and her tumultuous relationships with Roman generals Julius Caesar and Marc Antony over the course of her life.
Despite clocking in at over four hours, this is a massively engrossing film, with a story as epic as its running time suggests. It’s not only got a great plot, but is helped by fantastic central performances, and mesmerising set and production design that makes for a convincing and compelling tale of the ancient world.
First and foremost, let’s talk about how this film manages to maintain your interest in its story for over four hours. History buffs will adore it for the brilliant factual accuracy, cinephiles will love the fantastic narrative that sustains across such a long time period, and general audiences will be delighted by the fact that it’s just as much as an entertainment film as a historical one.
The plot follows Cleopatra as the principal character, with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony as the secondary protagonists. In effect, this is mainly a romantic drama, as the majority of the story and the characters’ actions are commanded by love for one another, and it’s the strength of the romances in this film that prevail as the main topic, with the politics and battles behind in a close second.
So, there’s no need to fear the daunting runtime, because this is an epic story with such excitement and enjoyability that will absolutely fly by.
Moving on, let’s look at the central performances. Despite only being nominated for one acting Oscar (Rex Harrison for Julius Caesar), the actors put in fantastic shows. Elizabeth Taylor is as stunning as ever as the enigmatic but enjoyable Cleopatra, Rex Harrison plays a fascinating Julius Caesar, and Richard Burton, who shines most of all for me, is thrilling as the somewhat weaker, but far more intriguing Marc Antony.
With a great story and brilliant acting, then, this is a wholly convincing and captivating film throughout, but what is most impressive above all of that is its visual spectacle.
If there were ever a case against the use of CGI in films, this would be Exhibit A. Made on a budget of $31m in 1963 (around $250m in 2015), all of the sets, costumes and props here are real, practical effects. As a result, everything appears completely realistic, bringing you deeper into the world of Ancient Rome and Egypt and the story that unfolds within, but it’s still a simply beautiful sight to witness throughout.
Overall, then, I’ll give this an 8.6, not just because of its beautiful visuals and great performances, but a continuously captivating plot that turns a historical drama into a truly thrilling one.