“Caesar and Cleopatra” ~ The two-hour long film from 1945 is an adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play from 1898.
The somewhat historically accurate plot line follows the true political alliance between Julius Caesar (solider and eventual dictator of Rome) and Cleopatra Selene VII (queen of Egypt,) and explores the connection between each other.
Caesar and Cleopatra first meet in the Egyptian desert at a sphinx statue. Caesar speaks to the sphinx in a philosophical manner until the sphinx replies back in a rather feminine voice — then pops out a woman who introduces herself as Cleopatra.
Cleopatra is very timid and skittish, confessing that she is terrified of the Romans who she believes wants to eat her alive — especially Caesar, who she is most frightened of. And so Caesar in return plays a silly little trick on her. He does not reveal his identity and pretends to be someone else. Then, he builds up her courage and insists that she must be brave for Caesar.
Cleopatra stands shaky in her palace, ready to meet Caesar and his army. With the encouragement of her new buddy, she feels more bold and confident as queen. The moment it clicks in her head who Caesar really is, she ecstacically collapses into his arms with joy and relief. It’s quite adorable.
Younger brother Ptolemy who is king of Egypt at the moment, and clearly way too young to rule as he can’t even remember his lines, announces his dispute with Cleopatra. But she has now aligned with Caesar, who will protect her position on the throne.
“What will Caesar do with me?” she asks her servant, who replies, “ask rather what you will do with him,” and goes on to explain that while she was sleeping, he spent the entire night wide awake working at his desk — that he is a magician, a god disguised as a human.
The servant continues to boast that he is so godlike that he can change forms, that he has already changed Cleopatra. And Cleopatra agrees, admitting that she used to be so afraid of everyone, even her own servant. But now everything has changed. Not only has she received title of queen, she now feels it internally. He has given her more bravery and fearlessness.
After Caesar has sailed away on his trip, Cleopatra surprises him by secretly delivering herself as a “serpent” wrapped in layers of blankets. But she’s not allowed to stay because of the many battles happening. A sudden commotion causes them to flee into the water, and Cleopatra rides on Caesar’s back as they swim to shore.
By now, all the civilians have become aware of the chemistry between the pair. Everyone is talking about them — in a scandalous way. What first started as a playful friendship continues heating with time. But Caesar insists that Mark Antony, another roman soldier who is a bit younger, would be a better fit for her.
Cleopatra spends time in Rome while Caesar is away fighting, and the ladies there are snarky and judgmental, gossiping and laughing at her. She is able to stick up for herself because of Caesar’s supportive wisdom, as he had once told her to listen to people who speak about you, because you learn a lot — not about yourself, but about what kind of people they really are.
However, things grow tense between the two when motives are questioned and trust is lost. Cleopatra has a man assassinated for implying to Caesar that she is dishonest and only using him for politics.
At a romantic yet simple dinner, Caesar and Cleopatra discuss leaving political life and finding a new city for them to live together. They can start over and live in peace.
Unfortunately the dinner is interrupted by the aftermath of the assassination, propelling a riot, which forces Cleopatra to admit to Caesar that it was her servant behind the murder. This infuriates him. In turn, her servant’s life is taken away. Cleopatra is devastated. Violence and madness escalates among the townspeople.
The story ends on a happy note with Caesar saying goodbye to Cleopatra before leaving Egypt and heading back to Rome. Cleopatra is truly remorseful for trouble she has caused. He plants her a kiss on the forehead and promises to send her Mark Antony.
Caesar and Cleopatra is a unique look at the start of the relationship between two extremely powerful historical figures. We know that the ending is not the true end, as in real life the two go on to have a child nicknamed “Caesarean” (Little Caesar) before the dramatic murder of Caesar a few years later.
Perhaps this is the way that play writer George Bernard Shaw intended the story to end. Although I appreciated a happy ending, I expected it to be even happier. At least it was left with a kiss, but really… on the forehead? Sometimes it seemed like they were getting very close but there always seemed to be a boundary. Just when they were about to run away together, it somehow ends up with a forehead peck and another man. It’s very frustrating.
The character of Cleopatra is presented in a similar yet distinct variation of what most pop culture displays her as. While it nods at a thirst for power, it also reveals an innocent vulnerability that most other movies, books, and artwork fail to acknowledge. She is typically portrayed as overly intimidating — meanwhile “Caesar and Cleopatra” first introduces her as someone who is hiding from the world in fear. The root of her flaws are not maliciousness, but insecurity. It’s not until meeting Caesar, when she discovers her own potential.
The character of Caesar is presented as extremely clever and witty, as well as confident and self-assured. He comes off as lighthearted and detached, yet proves himself to be passionately dedicated and ambitious. Growing fondness for Cleopatra, he ends up revealing that he never even trusted her in the first place. As amicable and kindhearted as he may be, it shows that he is weary and closed.
Overall, I really enjoyed this film! It was interesting watching something from so long ago. It really does not need any fancy graphics or editing… the script is smart, the acting is phenomenal, and the costumes and makeup are gorgeous. What I love most is how every single line in the film was clearly thought out beforehand, very well written. If I could somehow see the live action original play, that would be incredible!