11 November 2005 | marcin_kukuczka
Little part - HISTORY, considerable part - GEORGE B. SHAW; most part - VIVIEN LEIGH
CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA (1945), based on George Bernard Shaw's play and directed by Gabriel Pascal, is a very unique movie that combines all precious aspects of film art. It is not purely a historical movie since it contains a lot of inaccuracies that appear to be illogical from a historical perspective. Nevertheless, one has to analyze it in a deeper understanding, taking into account other factors that make the film a precious piece of post-war cinema. Therefore, it is impossible to see it without the consideration of other aspects, or more clearly, other figures that significantly affect the movie in general: George Bernard Shaw with his style filled with wit and elegance; and Vivien Leigh with her extraordinary acting skills. Let me consider the three aforementioned aspects: history, Shaw and Leigh.
HISTORY: It is true that if you know Cleopatra's story and the events connected with the Roman conquest over Egypt, you will feel confused or even disappointed with the content of this film. Cleopatra definitely did not learn to be a queen from Caesar that much as she does here. She was a very intelligent woman with "foxy" plans as for Caesar and Rome(in this case, I would recommend CLEOPATRA by DeMille (1934) or by Mankiewicz (1963). The film by Pascal presents, in part justifiably, a total mess in Egypt that Caesar finds when he steps into its politics. This is proved by the way Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy are showed - two kids rather than rulers who compete for power. However, there are some strong historical points in the film that must be seen together with shortcomings. First, the film very well presents the Romans together with their leader Julius Caesar wonderfully played by Claude Rains. There is a very realistic scene of Roman legions entering Alexandria, the capital of Egypt. I also liked the way Caesar's personality is developed - someone who is full of contradictions rather than an "almighty" conqueror. These aspects make the film more authentic and ancient heroes more humane. However, it cannot be treated as a historical work for sure.
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: But all must be thanked not only to the director but to this great classic playwright. G.B. Shaw is noticeable throughout, particularly through magnificent elegance. The director, Gabriel Pascal, really retains everything that one can find in Shaw's play. Therefore, any Shaw's fan, including the one with richest imagination will not be disappointed thanks to the marvelous elegance in this movie. In other words, the pictures of the film will not leave anything else to wish. The lavish sets, the costumes, simply BEAUTY noticeable in most of the scenes! Wit is another aspect. This is most effective in the scenes with Caesar and Cleopatra. "You will soon learn how to govern" says Cleopatra to mighty Caesar after a day or two of his lessons of ruling. Or the jumps into the sea (Apollodorus, Caesar and .... Cleopatra) - quite unique!
VIVIEN LEIGH: Before seeing the film, I did not expect her to be as good as her Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). Now I must say that she is better as Cleopatra. Vivien gives a marvelous performance as a girl dreaming of a handsome man with strong arms who could protect her, and as a girl who later changes into a courageous, mighty queen. "If one man in all Alexandria can be found to say I did wrong, I swear to have myself be crucified on the door of the palace by my own slaves," which she says to Caesar after ordering Pothinus to be killed. And how wonderfully she plays one of the first scenes when she, in very unpredictable circumstances, finds out that the stranger she met at the Sphynx and with whom she talked so trust-worthily, is Caesar himself. UNFORGETTABLE! A lot of people associate only Liz Taylor with film Cleopatra. Not to mention Claudette Colbert, it is a pity they don't find Leigh's performance as worth highest attention.
It would be unfair to skip one more factor: other cast. Vivien shines in her role but others do very good jobs as well. Claude Rains is a very different Caesar than in most other films (actors who played him were, among others, Rex Harrison, William Warren, Fritz Leibner). But he is unforgettable, his face reflects a spirit of antiquity. Flora Robson who gives a memorable performance of Cleopatra's bossy servant Ftatateeta, stresses rather male features of character. She does it wonderfully through her gestures and low voice. And Francis L Sullivan as Pothinus - really worth attention!
All in all, there are many other aspects that make the movie highly recommended. Of course, it is difficult to mention everything in one review. All I can say at the end of my review is:
Do see the film!
If you are Shaw's fan, you will find his spirit throughout.
If you are Vivien Leigh's fan, you will be absolutely amazed by her performance.
If you are fond of historical, lavish epics, there will definitely be something wonderful that you will appreciate in CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA. 8/10!