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Running time:

243 mn






Drama, Historical, Biography, Epic


Joseph L. Mankiewicz


20th Century Fox


Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Ranald MacDougall, Sidney Buchman


Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau, Pamela Brown, George Cole, Hume Cronyn, Cesare Danova, and others

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Summary of the film
The triumphs and tragedy of the Egyptian queen, Cleopatra.The winner of four Oscars, this epic saga of love, greed and betrayal stars Elizabeth Taylor as the passionate and ambitious Egyptian queen who's determined to hold on to the throne and seduces the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. When Caesar is murdered, she redirects her attentions to his general, Marc Antony, who vows to take power, but Caesar's successor has other plans. (Filmaffinity)
Interior scenes of Queen Cleopatra, with Egyptian decorations (Screenshot by the author)
Port of Alexandria in Cleopatra (1963) (Screenshot by the author)
Recreation of Egyptian architecture (Screenshot by the author)
Egyptomania narratives or motifs
The movie Cleopatra (1963) stands out as one of the most iconic Hollywood productions inspired by ancient Egypt. It has been widely acclaimed for its portrayal of Queen Cleopatra, albeit perpetuating some inaccurate stereotypes. The film, set in the era of Cleopatra VII and featuring Elizabeth Taylor in the lead role, primarily delves into her romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Drawing inspiration from Carlo Mario Franzero's novel The Life and Times of Cleopatra, as well as historical accounts by Plutarch, Suetonius, and Apianus, the movie depicts Queen Cleopatra as a seductive figure who ultimately leads Mark Antony to his demise following Julius Caesar's assassination.
Although enjoying immense popularity among audiences, the production of Cleopatra was beset by numerous challenges. These included filming delays, changes in shooting locations, and a switch in directors from Rouben Mamoulian to Leo Mankiewicz. Furthermore, financial setbacks amounting to five million dollars were incurred during production, compounded by Elizabeth Taylor's illness and her scandalous extramarital relationship with Richard Burton. With a total budget of $44 million, Cleopatra earned the distinction of being the most expensive film ever made at that time in cinematic history.
Out of the nine nominations it received at the Oscars, the film secured victory in four categories: Best Art Direction (Color), Best Cinematography (Color), Best Visual Effects, and Best Costume Design (Color). Those prizes proved the significant emphasis placed on the artistic and aesthetic facets of the film. This holds particular significance as Mankiewicz's Cleopatra played a pivotal role in shaping an aesthetic that profoundly influenced subsequent Egyptian-themed productions in nations like the United States and Italy.
The film utilized Technicolor technology to bring its visuals to life, contributing to the creation of a lavish and ornate aesthetic. Notably, the art direction team, under the leadership of accomplished art director John DeCuir, played a crucial role in this endeavor. DeCuir adeptly blended Egyptian and Greek influences in reconstructing Alexandria at the renowned Italian Cinecittà studios. His work showcased a deep understanding of art history, with set designs reflecting elements of neoclassical style and 19th-century romantic classicism. The watercolor sketches he produced bear resemblance to idealistic paintings by Thomas Cole, such as The Course of Empire (1833-1836).
On the contrary, the film's costume design draws inspiration from ancient sources, particularly reminiscent of the reliefs found in Ancient Egyptian temples. However, when depicting interior scenes, the film portrays Cleopatra in a highly sensual and sexualized manner, often emphasizing nudity. Particularly notable are the scenes showcasing Cleopatra bathing in a lavish marble bathtub. I have highlighted parallels with certain artistic works from the Aesthetic Movement, such as paintings by Alma-Tadema like A Favourite Custom. Additionally, it is intriguing to observe the influence of nineteenth-century painting on the final scene portraying Cleopatra's death; similar depictions can be found in works by Victorian painters such as John Collier. It is worth noting that the grandeur of the film's sets transcends any mere artistic allusion.
Furthermore, it is essential to acknowledge the objectification of Cleopatra in the film through sexualization. Her beauty is consistently linked with a predatory desire for men throughout the narrative, embodying the archetype of the femme fatale.

Author: Guillermo Juberías Gracia

Other information
Barrientos Bueno, M. 2002. Cine y pintura, in R. Utrera Macías (ed.) Cine, arte y artilugios en el panorama español: 63-90. Sevilla: Padilla Libros.
Not available
Juberías Gracia, G. 2023. From Alma-Tadema to Cecil B. DeMille: The Influence of Nineteenth-Century Painting on Classical Hollywood Films Set in Ancient Egypt, in A. I. Fernández Pichel (ed.) How Pharaohs Became Media Stars: Ancient Egypt and Popular Culture: 150-154. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Open access
Ropars, J. M. 2022. Cleopatra Reconsidered: A Revisionist Critique of Hollywood’s Most Notorious Epic. Cinéaste 47(2), 26–31.
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Abraham I. Fernández Pichel


Abraham I. Fernández Pichel - Rogério Sousa - Eleanor Dobson - Filip Taterka - Guillermo Juberías Gracia - José das Candeias Sales
Nuno Simões Rodrigues - Samuel Fernández-Pichel - Sara Woodward - Tara Sewell-Lasater - Thomas Gamelin – Leire Olabarría
Alfonso Álvarez-Ossorio - Jean-Guillaume Olette-Pelletier - Marc Orriols-Llonch

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