Cleopatra

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The scarcity of objective information about Cleopatra has allowed poetic licence for each generation to interpret her story as it sees fit, reflecting the changes in society’s view of women, together with the preoccupations of each period.

Cleopatra (1934) starred Claudette Colbert in a reprise of her previous romantic-comedy roles: lightweight, flirtatious and funny but this time in a revealing historical costume.

The emphasis is on her romantic liaisons with Caesar and Antony rather than any political manoeuvering. The men are the serious players here. Her role as Queen and stateswoman is secondary; she is a woman who follows her man and her heart. At one point she states, “I am no longer a Queen; I am a woman”.

The 1930’s saw movements in America, such as the Catholic organisation, the Legion of Decency, attempting to stem the progress of women’s equality. (Fear,T. DVD Cleopatra (2009) ) Their aim was to encourage women to return to their traditional role as homemakers. A new production code threatened moviemakers with boycott and censorship if they strayed from this message. The genre of the historical drama allowed the studios to present more controversial and risqué material, sidestepping this threat.

The tone of Cleopatra (1963) is one of excess, opulence and decadence, typified by the scene showing Cleopatra’s entry to Rome. These themes spilled over into reality; at the time, the film was the most expensive ever made and the two leads, Taylor and Burton, met on set and began their famous love affair, adding an extra dimension to their on-screen scenes.

Taylor’s portrayal acknowledges Cleopatra’s reputation as an intelligent and resourceful stateswoman, unafraid to use her sexuality when necessary to achieve her political ends. She is commanding and in control, as in the scene where she instructs Antony to kneel. However, as in the 1934 film, she is still ultimately portrayed as a woman consumed by love.

The film recognises the...
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