Cleopatra review

This gargantuan sword-and-sandals epic has been dusted off and is being shown in its full roadshow glory in selected cinemas to mark its 50th anniversary. The new print certainly looks magnificent - the size and scope of it all is breathtaking. And to think it was all done without CGI. Wowser! That said, its making was infinitely more interesting than what ended up on screen - the endless budget over-runs, the Burton-Taylor scandal for example. The final result however is an exercise in unremitting tedium.

The first half is the best. Rex Harrison brings effortless authority to the role of troubled Julius Caesar, eager to sire a son as he lays waste to his enemies. Taylor is ideally cast as the headstrong and spoilt Queen of the Nile, wily and manipulative in getting what she wants. Burton's swarthy charisma is on full display as Mark Anthony, though his performance is insufferably histrionic at times. The supporting cast is an eccentric bunch of well known faces, with Roddy McDowall particularly effective as the scheming Octavian.

At over four hours though it certainly tests one patience. Thankfully there's an intermission, but it all goes downhill somewhat after Harrison exits. The crowd scenes, Cleopatra's entrance into Rome and the sea battle are all certainly impressive but the script is stiff and pompous and the slow pacing brings drowsiness. Come the final stretch and you just want things to hurry up a bit. It's all so protracted and drawn out. Worth seeing on the big screen to be sure but there's no need to stick around once the interval comes.

Cleopatra at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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