Cleopatra 1963 film review

Cleopatra 1963 Movie Review: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, and Power of Love and Love of Power that One Must Watch Know

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  • Post last modified:25 January 2024

Last updated on January 25th, 2024 at 12:30 pm

Cleopatra 1963 is one of the greatest, most expensive, and most spectacular historical drama films of Hollywood that has ever been made.

It portrays the struggle of Egyptian Queen Cleopatra to hold the Ptolemy dynasty of Egypt by sleeping with her Roman allies Julius Caesar and Marc Antony.

A film that again shows a Roman military general’s struggle between love and duty who had to fight against his own people as a proconsul of Rome after its division into three rulers: Lepidus, Antony, and Octavian. Cleopatra 1963 has been called the most expensive motion picture ever made. Still called the biggest flop of all time, it is a film that nearly bankrupted the Hollywood studio and a scandal that led the press to a feeding frenzy, that had the public begging for more.

For almost four decades the story of Cleopatra has been shrouded in rumour and marred by gossip. only famous and infamous story ever made into a film.

However, behind it remains a true and compelling and tragic story of love and duty, a story that changed lives and film that changed Hollywood forever.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Cleopatra is starred by Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar, Richard Burton as Marc Antony, Jean March as Octavian and others. Cleopatra 1963 is one of the 101 best films I have been watching to review with insight. It won the Golden Globe Award. Laurel Awards and Academy Awards in 1964.

Historical background

After the battle between Gaius Julius Caesar and Pompey, one of the great generals and statesmen of the Roman Republic sought refuge in Egypt when Cleopatra’s father Ptolemy XII Auletes was the Macedonian King of Egypt, the first Ptolemy to include Theos (god) in his title.

When he died in 51 BC his two heirs, his son Ptolemy XIII and daughter, Cleopatra VII to reign in Egypt jointly. As their relationship fell, she was forced to flee to Syria.

In the meantime, before Caesar reached and occupied Alexandria, Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy ambushed and killed his father’s ally, Pompey, at the request of his court eunuchs to please the victorious Caesar, the head of Pompey later he presented to Caesar.  

In 48 BCE She returned to Alexandria from her exile with her own armies to face her younger brother Ptolemy XIII to restore the first Ptolemies. She sought Caesar’s assistance in restoring herself as the queen. Amid the seizure, Caesar declared Cleopatra and her other brother Ptolemy XIV as the joint rulers of Egypt.

Though she married Ptolemy, she maintained a secret relationship with Caesar which resulted in their son Ptolemy Cesar or Caesarion or the little Caesar who ruled Egypt with his mother for 15 years until he was killed by Octavian, the first emperor of the Roman Empire.

Caesarion was the last Pharaoh or King of Ptolemaic Egypt who was the biological son of a Roman soldier who wanted to see himself as a god, inspired by Alexander the Great. However, Cleopatra travelled to Rome with her son in 46 BCE and after the assassination of Caesar in 44 BC she named Caesarion as her co-ruler, which he did for 15 years.   

Storyline: Cleopatra 1963

After the Battle of Pharsalus, Caesar reached Alexandria to settle the conflict between Pharoah Ptolemy XII and his sister Cleopatra who was driven out of Alexandria.

Instead of ruling together, he was ruling Egypt single-handedly. She returned with her army when Caesar was in Alexandria. She met in the palace in a carpet roll.

She implored him to restore her throne which he did by killing Ptolemy’s chief adviser Pothinus for plotting assassination against Cleopatra and sending away Ptolemy to exiling where he was killed against Mithridates. Ptolemy’s gift of Pompey’s head to him did not please Caesar.

As Cleopatra was made queen undisputed, she began to have the dream of ruling the world together with Caser, who dreamt of an Alexander-like unified world, with one nation and people. Caesar and Cleopatra married and their son Caesarion is the result of that. his wife’s bareness prevented him from having a son. it took 3 years for Caesar to return to Rome, leaving behind Cleopatra and Caesarion in Alexandria.

Their marriage, and heir to Caesarion and that he become the king and god of Egypt and his wishes to be king and emperor of Rome by defying Roman laws enraged the Senate which led to his assassination by the members of senators in the Curia. However, Cleopatra came to Rome with Caesarion while he was still alive. Caesar named his adopted son Octavian as the heir to the throne. Enraged she returned to Egypt with Caesarion.

The allied forces of Caesar’s general Marc Antony, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Octavian put an end to the rebellion aroused by Caesar’s assassins.

Splitting the Republic, the Triumvirate, triarchy began which led to making Octavian the first emperor of the future Roman Empire.

The trio agreed to rule different territories. Lepidus with Africa and Islands, Octavian Spain and Gaul, and Antony the rest with Rome and Italy to be administered jointly by the three.

Cleopatra entering Rome with her son Caesarion in a lavish procession and display of Egyptian rich.  Cleopatra was clad in dressed in gold.
Cleopatra enters Rome with her son Caesarion in a lavish procession and display of Egyptian rich. Cleopatra was clad in dressed in gold.

After 3 years of Caesar’s death and when Octavian forced Lepidus out of his command and sent him to exile, Antony’s army faced food scarcity and Rufio was sent to Cleopatra to arrange a meeting.

He met her on her ship on Egyptian territory on the River Nile, where they first agreed to help each other. During their meeting, Cleopatra urged him to be what he dreamt of Caesar, a master of Rome, to conquer the world, and bring the world its knees.

While thinking of attacking Parthia, Antony was informed that he lacked the money to provide for the soldiers, some of whom already deserted the legion. His general Rufio suggested him to go back to Egypt for resources. even after several refusals, Cleopatra agreed to meet with Antony in a royale ship in Tarsus.

A romantic affair developed between them. But she wanted the same of him: the world on its knees. she wanted him to fulfil Caser’s desire to be the master of Rome, to rule the world, she with him being a wife.

The long absence of Antony from Rome made the senate and Octavian suspicious of his moves. Octavian decided to marry his widowed sister Octavia off with Antony to make him forget Cleopatra and stay in Rome, and Antony married Octavia to prevent any possible political conflict.

The news of the marriage greatly hurt Cleopatra. She felt betrayed and broken and devastated. After that, 5 ambassadors of Antony were not allowed to enter the palace of Cleopatra while Antony was in need of money and food. after all, he was forced to go to Egypt to make a treaty with Cleopatra as an envoy of Rome and a proconsul of the Roman Empire.

she agreed to a treaty of alliance with Rome Antony by his authority ceded to Egypt Judea, Jordan, Armenia, Phoenicia, the provinces of Sinai and Arabia the islands of Cyprus and Crete. Disagreed first, he later agreed to accede the territories to Egypt, declare Caesarion as King Ptolemy Caesarion of Egypt and marry her according to Egyptian tradition because of his love for her.

He was ready to do anything that she willed. Octavian received Antony’s letter of last will to be buried in Alexandria. The Roman soldiers divided between Antony and Octavian, fought against each other in the ensuing Battle of Actium in Greece in 31 BC where Octavian’s fleet in Agrippa’s command defeated the combined fleet of Antony and Egypt.

Cleopatra fled from the battle scene thinking Antony was dead and ordered forces home which forced him to desert his legion making the fleet leaderless and a certain defeat.

After the defeat at the Battle of Actium, Antony remained lost and secluded himself to the burial chamber of Alexander the Great, and stopped talking to Cleopatra. Cleopatra begged him to forgive her folly of fleeing from the war site. while Octavian’s forces were advancing Alexandria.

Octavian sent Agrippa with the message of peace which lies on the Egypt’s will of turning Antony to Octavian which Cleopatra refused knowing the severe cost of refusal saying, “Octavian may have two heads for the price of one”. which she could have done.

later she convinced him to retake the command of his legions and fight against the advancing Octavian forces and had Caesarion sent out of Alexandria in disguise. Though had the opportunity, she decided to remain in the palace.

However, Antony’s soldiers abandon him during the night. Rufio, the last man loyal to Antony, kills himself.  Antony tried to fight Octavian into single combat, but as none of the soldiers fought back, fled to the palace where Cleopatra was preparing for her death inside the burial chamber.

Before Antony returned, the Queen’s general admitted that he had been in love with her which she was not unaware of. 

Marc Antony and Cleopatra in Alexandria, Egypt.
Marc Antony and Cleopatra in Alexandria, Egypt.

Upon his return, Antony requested to help him die. while Apollodorus refused he thrust his sword inside his stomach which made him half-dead. Apollodorus then confessed that he misled Antony and assisted him to the tomb where Cleopatra and two servants took refuge. Antony succumbed to death in Cleopatra’s arms inside the tomb.

When Octavian reached Alexandria, he found Apollodorus dead by suicide and found the queen in the tomb. He said Egypt is now the province of Rome by the right of conquest and let her rule if she accompanied him to Rome.

But realised that Caesarion is dead when she saw the ring of Caesar on Octavian’s finger, which Caesar gave to Caesarion. Cleopatra, knowing that her son is dead, agrees to Octavian’s terms, including an empty pledge on the life of her son not to harm herself.

As Octavian left, she prepared herself for death which she did by being bitten by a snake inside a basket of pigs, arranged by the savants. She wanted to be clothed in gold dresses like the very first day Antony saw her during her visit to Rome. Octavian found her dead in her chamber. The Romans asked, was this done well by your lady? “Extremely well”, said the servants, “as befitting the last of so many noble rulers”.  

Conclusive insight

All of her life Cleopatra lived a dream which is not hers.

First, she used Caesar to fulfill her dream to be the of Egypt, then she dreamed of a wife an emperor, a co-ruler of the empire she thought Caesar would conquer, then she wanted to be the mother of Caesarion, the heir of Gaius Augustus Caesar, for which she used Caesar’s right hand, Marc Antony who was ready to anything because of his love to her.

Infatuated by her beauty, Antony confessed to her, “With you, words do not come easily to me. There is too much unsaid within me that I cannot say.”

For Cleopatra’s sake, Antony revolted against the Romans who so dearly loved him. While leaving for the Battle of Actium against the Romans Antony was quiet. Cleopatra asked him what ‘has happened’, he replied, you have happened to me”.

I think the Cleopatra Syndrome came from this.  American Psychological Association describes Cleopatra Syndrome as “the set of behavioural patterns is characterized by (1) unsated lust for confirmation of her great importance for her lover and (2) avoidance of relationships with a man that could entail dependence on him or any possibility of being subjugated.” on the hand, her deep love for she decided to die with him instead of being a Roman vessel.

When the Romans set fire to the great library of Alexandria that held Aristotle’s manuscript, platonic commentaries, the Hebrew bible, and books of history, Cleopatra ran to Caesar and roared, “Tear down pyramids, wipe out cities! How dare you and the rest of your barbarians set fire to my library? Play Conqueror all you want, mighty Caesar. Rape, murder, and pillage thousands, millions of human beings. But neither you nor any other barbarian has the right to destroy one human thought!”

“Your master must not be love. Never love. Give yourself to love and you give yourself to forgetfulness of what you are and who you are and what you want”, said Cleopatra to Antony when she realised, she was giving in herself to what she dreamed not. Indeed, love is a master that regulates our thoughts, perceptions, imagination, and our entire goal in life.

Though history terms Queen Cleopatra a femme fatale who used men to fulfill her own dream through different rulers, and who claimed to be a daughter of the Egyptian goddess Isis, Cleopatra did really fall in love with Antony. It was he with whom she desired to live or die. She could have Octavian knelt before her, the way she had done to Julius Caesar.

However, if have to say something about the movie Cleopatra 1963, I have to say it teaches more of the history of Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire and Octavian Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus’ becoming of an emperor. The acting of Elizabeth as Queen Cleopatra is, I think, brilliant, in one word.

A line from the Game of Thrones, “love is the death of duty”, is properly befitting of Antony.

Romzanul Islam

Thinking out of the convention and moving forward with knowledge and reasons are always my styles. Researching, watching the best films, and reading and collecting the best books to enrich me is my deadly passion. Stoicism, liberalism, feminism and aversion to material success are my ideals.