An Epic Tragedy
Having disposed of his older sister, Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor), Ptolemy (Richard O'Sullivan) attempts to court favour with Caesar (Rex Harrison). But Cleopatra has her own plans and after entering his abode by hiding in a carpet presented to Caesar she infatuates him leading to him banishing Ptolemy and declaring Cleopatra Egypt's sole ruler whilst taking her as a mistress. But in Rome Caesar is killed and Cleopatra returns to Egypt where some years later she has the same enchanting power over Caesar's protégé, Mark Antony (Richard Burton), who becomes both an advisor and a lover. But things sour when to increase his power in Rome Antony marries another infuriating Cleopatra in the process.
At 192 minutes a movie needs to succeed at every level; be it the acting, the story, the production, everything has to be perfect as if one thing is wrong it can spell disaster. Whilst I would never say "Cleopatra" is a disaster it is by no means the captivating movie it wants to be. From what is often said it may be because the studio decided to chop out two hours of the movie. Yes a further 2 hours as the original concept was two movies both close to being 3 hours long but fearing it wouldn't work the studio chopped it down and in doing so caused issues with the story and characters. What ever the reason "Cleopatra" is slow work for those who need more than just dialogue to keep them entertained.
Of course there is more and "Cleopatra" sits in my top ten list of epic productions with such an impressive look and a real sense of scale that from a pure production point of view it is astonishing. Everything from the sets to the many costumes and not just those which Elizabeth Taylor wears are staggering. Rather amusingly as I watched Elizabeth Taylor parade around in one stunning costume after another, quickly losing track of how many different costumes she wears, I could just see the headlines if this was being made now with references to low cut dresses showing cleavage and side boob.
On the subject of Elizabeth Taylor it is a beautiful performance from her with various levels from being seductive to scheming. And those around her be it Burton, Harrison, Cronyn all deliver top performances. But it is a case that this is a movie chock full of characters and it is due to the editing its undoing because many of the characters don't get the time they deserve. Although this does lead to some expected pleasures especially when as a Brit you realise that it is George Cole playing Caesar's loyal servant Flavius and it is a young Richard O'Sullivan of "Robin's Nest" fame as Ptolemy.
What this all boils down to is that "Cleopatra" is an astonishing production, a truly epic with great sets, stunning costumes and a staggering cast all delivering performances at the top of their game. The only trouble is that for me there is something about it which doesn't work and the story just fails to live up to the production which may be down to the removal of various story parts to cutting its running length down.