Movie Review of “Cleopatra”
The legendary story of Cleopatra has endured for over two thousand years. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1963 epic movie, “Cleopatra”, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison and Richtard Burton depicts the end of Ancient Egypt’s Ptolemaic dynasty with the fall of Cleopatra. Cleopatra was in fact the last of the great the pharaohs of Egypt and it can be said that she was as famous as Elizabeth Taylor who had been chosen to portray the fascinating ruler. Cleopatra was an intelligent woman who was a shrewd leader. She had ruled Egypt for approximately twenty-two years with the help of first Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony. To preserve her dynasty in the face of the looming Roman expansion she recognized that an alliance with Rome was needed. (Schiff) While Mankiewicz’s movie is generally historically accurate, the director often strays or seems to embellish actual events in order to increase the entertainment value for the audience. The movie’s interpretation of the government structure and politics, historical events and cross-cultural interactions seems to follow accepted historical facts. However, the movie does include some minor historical inaccuracies, which can be forgiven based on the director’s objective to produce an extraordinary account of one of history’s most fascinating and enduring figures. On balance, the 1963 movie can be considered to stay true to the major events during Cleopatra’s lifetime and the small embellishments to the story do not detract from the factual events but only serve to heighten the enjoyment of the movie. In the movie, Roman government structure and politics is accurately portrayed. The movie references the conflict between two Roman leaders, Julius Caesar and Pompey. Pompey flees to Alexandria where is murdered on the orders of Cleopatra’s brother, Ptolemy. The Roman Senate, situated in Rome, is shown to hold much of the power and decision making authority. Later, after Caesar is victorious in his battles, the Senate bestows upon him Dictator of Rome for Life. The movie illustrates that the senate is uncomfortable with Caesar holding all the power. This is clearly demonstrated when they discuss Caesar’s new child with Cleopatra and state that there is no ‘throne’ of Rome that the child can assume. Similarly, Nigel Rodgers states that early in 44 BC Caesar assumed permanent control of the Roman Empire. He was a dictator for life, which meant he had assumed leadership power much like a king. Likewise, Schiff writes that Caesar had been declared the dictator of the Roman Empire and thus enjoyed absolute power. Another, factor leading to the political alliance between Rome and Egypt was Rome’s dependence on Egypt’s wealth and this is clearly evident in the movie. Rome needed Egypt vast resources in order to sustain its legions of armies in order to continue their expansion into new territories. In the movie, Cleopatra negotiates with Julius Caesar that she be made sole Queen of Egypt and then promises to supply Caesar with all the grain and gold he needs. The movie shows that Caesar’s attraction to Cleopatra and their mutual interests lead to their political alliance. In fact, Cleopatra sees an opportunity to cement this alliance and assure her position by baring Caesar a son, who she named Caesarion. Similarly, Highet in her article about the iconic figure of Cleopatra states that she had a son in order to seal their coalition. However, although the movie shows that Caesar publicly acknowledged his son, it is not certain he actually did so.
Another area of focus that the director attempts to keep true to, is accepted historical events that he attempts to accurately portray throughout the movie. For example, when Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s first encounter each other she is in a carpet smuggled into the palace. Both Cleopatra and her younger brother had inherited the throne and were meant to rule together. However, her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII,...
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