It was only in 1972 that Charlton Heston directed a film for the first time... Good grief, why did he wait that long!?
Revisado en el Reino Unido 🇬🇧 el 11 de julio de 2013
I liked very much this excellent and very powerful adaptation of famous Shakespear's play. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
Charlton Heston is, except a mistake on my part, the person who played Mark Antony the most in all history of cinema - indeed, he was cast as this famous Roman warlord and politician no less than three times!
The first time he played him it was in 1950, in the largely forgotten today "Julius Caesar" by David Bradley. It was Heston's only second role and even if the film itself was not a big hit, his performance as Mark Antony helped him a lot in launching his career, by landing leading roles in "Dark City", "Savage", "Ruby Gentry" and especially the part in Cecil B. DeMille gigantic production "The greatest show on Earth".
In 1970 he played Mark Antony in another "Julius Ceaesar", this time as part of an ensemble cast, which included also John Gielgud, Jason Robards, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain, Diana Rigg, Christopher Lee and Richard Johnson. His performance was considered as most excellent and it inspired him to try to play this character in another Shakespear's play - "Antony and Cleopatra". But this time, he decided to also direct it.
Released in 1972, this film received surprisingly poor reviews and bombed at box-office, as most cinemas withdrew it very fast from the screens. It remained almost impossible to see for 30 years and was all but forgotten. This 2011 DVD release is therefore a sort of RESURRECTION - long time overdue in my personal opinion...
This film follows very faithfully Shakespear's script and therefore takes unavoidably some liberties with the real history. It begins with the Second Triumvirate formed (in real history in 42BC) and ends with Octavian total victory in 31BC. However you will not see here nine years passing and a great deal of real events will not be shown, such as Antony's disastrous failure in his campaign against Parths and the birth of Antony and Cleopatra's children (they are not even mentioned). But the real strength of this play is not in history lessons, but in a very powerful, very Shakespearian creation of a "symphony" about love, war, intrigue, hubris, betrayal, forgiveness, pride - and death...
Charlton Heston is of course the major star and the main pillar of this film and I found his Mark Antony much BETTER than the much more famous portrayal by Richard Burton. Heston was already 49 when playing in this film and therefore close to the age of real Antony during the period described. Especially towards the end this age issue becomes a very great asset to the film, as real Antony was 53 when he died. Also, the imposing size and stature of Heston fits well with the descriptions of real Antony, who was clearly a physically very powerful man. It is also my impression, that Heston portrayed Antony as a much STRONGER, PROUDER and more FORMIDABLE person than the one shown by Burton (who in "Cleopatra" made Antony in a kind of sissy, really...) - and that is a mightily good thing.
Stepping in the shoes of Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh and Claudette Colbert as Cleopatra was a much more difficult task for Hildegard Neil, a rather little known theatre and TV British actress. Well, she TOTALLY succeeded! Her Cleopatra is different from the one portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor, with especially some quasi-comical accents (in full accordance with Shakespear's original script), but nevertheless she is absolutely IMPRESSIVE, in all her aspects: a cunning politician, a venomous vixen, a girl in love, a proud queen carrying on her shoulders the fate of her country - and finally a woman in deep mourning, defeated but not broken, reading herself for the ultimate voyage... Last but not least, as far as my personal taste is concerned, Hildegarde Neil's Cleopatra is the FAIREST OF THEM ALL, as this actress was in the 70s at her hottest and most gorgeous. Some SF amateurs, especially of more geeky/nerdy kind, will instantly recognize her as one of the hottest "Space 1999" guest stars, playing drop dead gorgeous and terminally venomous Elizia in the episode "Devil's planet" - and as of July 2013, she is still alive, well and busy....
All the other cast performed also splendidly in this film, but some deserve special mentions:
- John Castle plays Octavius Caesar (Octavian). He shows him as a kind of jerk, but not as wicked a man as the one played in Mankiewicz's "Cleopatra" by Roddy McDowall
- Eric Porter is a particularly good Enobarbus, a character roughly corresponding to Martin Landau's Rufio in "Cleopatra"
- Jane Lapotaire (at that time married to director Roland Joffe), who still continues today a succesful career in British TV, is excellent as Charmian, Cleopatra's chief handmaiden and confidante
- Monica Peterson, a gorgeous black beauty, plays Iras, other Cleopatra's faithful handmaiden. She is real eye-candy - but sadly, Ms Peterson interrupted her career soon after this film
- Emiliano Redondo, a Spanish actor who plays Mardian, a faithful eunuch, completely (and obviously platonically) in love with his queen...
This film, so undeservedly ravaged by critics 30 years ago and for so long hidden from public view, is one of the BEST Shakespear's adaptations I ever saw and it is an impressive show, very much holding its own when compared to Mankiewicz's "Cleopatra". Charlton Heston particularly proved here, that he was not only a GREAT actor but also that he could direct as well as anybody else in this business. It is such a pity that his first, very succesful attempt in this field, was so poorly received... But at least now, we can admire his work and appreciate fully this EXCELLENT film. To buy, watch and keep. Enjoy!
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