Antony and Cleopatra Film Details
Overview: After the murder of her lover Caesar, Egypt’s queen Cleopatra needs a new ally. She seduces his probable successor Mark Antony. This develops into real love and slowly leads to a war with the other possible successor: Octavius.
Review: Ever since I studied it at school, I have regarded “Antony and Cleopatra” as one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. It is both a “love tragedy” like “Romeo and Juliet” and “Othello” and a political tragedy like “Macbeth”, “Coriolanus” and “Julius Caesar” to which it forms a sequel. It has long been popular in the theatre, but has proven to be less so with film-makers. This is the only feature film adaptation to have been made of it in the sound era, although there were two silent versions and there have been several made for television. None of the great cinematic Shakespeareans, such as Olivier and Branagh, have been tempted to have a go at it. There was, of course, the 1963 epic “Cleopatra” with Elizabeth Taylor, but although the second part of that film told essentially the same story it did not use Shakespeare’s dialogue. Fortunately, the late Charlton Heston shared my love of the play and decided to film it with himself as Antony. He originally asked another great Shakespearean, Orson Welles, to direct, and then also took on the role of director when Welles turned it down. This was Heston’s first directorial credit, although it was an open secret in Hollywood that he had taken over the direction of “Major Dundee” when Sam Peckinpah was incapacitated through alcoholism. He was only to direct one more feature film, “Mother Lode”, although he also directed a made-for-television version of “A Man for All Seasons”. Despite the title, there are actually three people at the heart of this drama, the third being Octavius Caesar, Antony’s political rival. Throughout the play there is a contrast between Rome and Egypt. Rome stands for the masculine, for stability, order, morality, the martial virtues and for self-denial. Egypt stands for the feminine, for love, sensuality, mutability and for self-indulgence. (Shakespeare clearly understood the concepts of yang and yin long before they were formally introduced into Western thought from Chinese philosophy). The film was shot in Spain, which provides an appropriately “Mediterranean” look, although I would have preferred it if it could have been shot in Italy and Egypt, to bring out this contrast between two different worlds. Budgetary considerations, however, may have precluded this. Caesar is the prime example in the play of Roman values, Cleopatra of Egyptian ones. Antony, who wants both political power and the love of Cleopatra, is caught between the two. At one point Caesar tries to heal their political rift by organising a marriage between Antony and his sister Octavia, but we know this will never work. Although she is beautiful and virtuous, Octavia is too much the Roman maiden, and too much her brother’s sister, for her ever to be a serious rival to Cleopatra in Antony’s affections. I think that Heston plays Antony in the right way, emphasising the fact that his character is not just caught between love and ambition but is also caught between two worlds. Beneath the middle-aged sensualist one can discern the tough Roman warrior which Antony once was. John Castle’s Caesar may have an authoritarian streak as well as a puritanical one, but it would be wrong to see him simply as a villain. Beneath the youthful prig one can discern the future Emperor Augustus, the statesman who was to restore peace and stability to the Roman Empire after decades of civil war. Among the supporting cast mention must be made of Eric Porter as Antony’s lieutenant Enobarbus, who starts off as a cynical observer of events but then becomes a tragic hero in his own right when he has to decide between remaining loyal to his old friend Antony and throwing in his lot with Caesar, who appears certain to emerge victorious. There will always be controversy about Cleopatra’s ethnicity; the historical character was of Greek descent and therefore probably Caucasian in appearance, but lines in the play itself suggest that Shakespeare thought of her as a black African, and she is sometimes played by black actresses in modern stage productions. In 1972, however, a love affair between a white Antony and a black Cleopatra would have been controversial, at least in America, and the role went to the British actress Hildegarde Neil. (The previous year, in “The Omega Man”, Heston had played a character in a romantic relationship with a black woman, but in that film their love was only one small element in the story. In “Antony and Cleopatra” the love between the title characters is the whole point of the play). Neil certainly had the looks for the part, and speaks her lines well, but I felt that she lacked the sensuality and seductive allure which Taylor brought to the role. The film was not well-received by the critics when it first came out and only had a limited release in the US. Even today it is not well-known and rarely turns up on television. (Fortunately, I caught it recently on one of those rare occasions). Yet in my view it is a well-crafted piece of cinematic Shakespeare which deserves to be better-known. It can certainly stand comparison with Olivier’s trilogy of Henry V, Hamlet and Richard III. 8/10 A goof. Octavius Caesar’s lieutenant Marcus Agrippa is portrayed here as an elderly man with a grey beard, much older than Caesar himself. In fact, the two men were around the same age. Also, surviving portrait busts of Agrippa show him as clean-shaven.
Country: United Kingdom, Spain, Switzerland
Duration: 160 min
Genre: Drama, History
Also known as: Antony and Cleopatra,Antoniusz i Kleopatra,William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra,António e Cleópatra,アントニーとクレオパトラ,Антоний и Клеопатра,Marco Antonio y Cleopatra,Antonî to Kureopatora,Antonio y Cleopatra,Antonius og Cleopatra,All’ombra delle piramidi,Antoine et Cléopatre,Antoine et Cléopâtre,Antonius und Cleopatra,Antonios kai Kleopatra,Las sombras de las pirámides,À Sombra das Pirâmides,…am Anfang war das Schwert – Antony und Cleopatra