Five Films That Explore Shakespeare's 'Antony & Cleopatra'
Published Nov 19, 2018Promotional consideration provided by Cineplex.
William Shakespeare's tragedy Antony and Cleopatra has been wowing audiences for hundreds of years. First performed circa 1607, the play's themes and characters are entirely universal. Most notably is Cleopatra, whose in-depth persona offers as many flaws as it does redemptive qualities.
As with most of the Bard's work, Antony & Cleopatra is a malleable work that has been adapted numerous times in nearly unlimited ways. Next month, the National Theatre will offer a live broadcast of the play at select Cineplex locations.
Directed by Simon Godwin, the National Theatre's version will star Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo and will be broadcast on December 6. To find showtimes and locations, go here.
Leading up to this performance, you may as well dip your toes in the rich (and sometimes strange) world of adaptations. We've selected a sampling of Cleopatra depictions throughout history, from X-rated anime to slapstick comedies.
Easily one of the most iconic representations of the role, Elizabeth Taylor's turn in Cleopatra was star-defining. Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film was mired in controversy, including cost overruns and production troubles. In fact, it nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox — it was the most expensive film ever made up to that point.
Carry On Cleo (1964)
One year later, Gerald Thomas put a wacky slapstick spin on the story, with Carry On Cleo. It was one of many entries into the Peter Rogers-produced Carry On series, which produced 31 films, four Christmas specials, a television series and three plays, all steeped in bawdy British humour. Despite all that output, Carry On Cleo is considered by many to be the best in the series.
Asterix and Cleopatra (1968)
Aside from being two cartoon characters you begrudgingly enjoyed while bored out of your mind in your elementary school library, Asterix and Obelix have gone on a great deal of wild, historical adventures. In 1968, they embarked on their second feature film and it sees them getting up to all sorts of hijinks in ancient Egypt. Not to be confused with the strange and surreal live-action Asterix / Cleopatra movie from 2002.
Truly the strangest film of the batch, 1970's Cleopatra is an erotic sci-fi anime that was directed by Eiichi Yamamoto and Osamu Tezuka, the latter of whom created Astro Boy and is considered the father of manga. The film — which involves time travel, aliens and plenty of wacky eroticism — was a massive flop in Japan, and didn't do much better in the United States. After all, it was released with a self-applied X-rating in North America, despite only featuring mild nudity and lewd insinuations. Oh, and this scene where a man is force-fed bananas to prove that "size doesn't matter."
Antony and Cleopatra (1972)
Of course, you can't have a grandiose cinematic epic without Charlton Heston getting involved in one way or another. In 1972, the Rank Organisation released Heston's own take on the Shakespearean tale. Heston also directed, but only after Orson Welles passed on the project. The film was shot on a relatively small budget, and sea battle scenes from 1959's Ben-Hur were reused in this flick. The film received poor reviews and now wallows in obscurity.