Antony and Cleopatra Video Capsule Review: 1972, Charlton Heston

It’s Friday, so welcome to the sixth (and final!) film in our six-week Friday Film Focus on Antony and Cleopatra. Each week, I’ve presented a capsule review of an A&C video, with full reviews coming in Sunday’s podcast.

In 1972, Charlton Heston directed a film of the play, starring himself as Antony and Hildegarde Neil as Cleopatra.

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A little background: in 1970, Heston had played Antony (for the second time) in a film version of Julius Caesar, directed by Stuart Burge. I thought his Antony there was quite good, better than the movie itself.

Only two years later, Heston took to the director’s chair for the first time to film Antony and Cleopatra. He should have handed the reins to someone else because in my opinion both the performance and the film as a whole suffered from a first-time director’s attempts to juggle both jobs. Heston’s Antony is solid if not stellar. He’s puffed up, deflated, violent, self-pitying. Hildegarde Neil as Cleopatra? For me, she was just kind of…there. None of the sexiness of Best (Shakespeare’s Globe) nor the fragility of Suzman (Nunn) production.

Heston cuts text (Act One, Scene Three: gone; as are most of the “soldier” scenes), but adds violence to keep the running time at two and three-quarter hours. We spend a LOT of time on the battles. Iras stabs herself (instead of dying from a kiss). Enobarbus tosses himself off a cliff (instead of just dying). Antony actually strikes Cleopatra. There’s even a gladiator scene. I’m not sure why Heston felt the need to add so much pseudo-action.

The sea battle is pretty bad. With lots of model usage, it looks cheap. Over the ships, we get a bunch of lap-dissolves (fades) of the Octavian and Antony basically looking at each other as the battle takes place. When Antony goes down into the hold to threaten the stroke-drummer to go faster in their attempt to flee the battle, it felt like a weird parallel (or parody even) to another Heston movie, Ben-Hur in which he was famously whipped as a rower. I guess that’s fitting, as Heston used left-over footage from that movie for the sea battle section.

This is not all bad. There are some nice touches here. The clumsy Lepidus. The use of Jane Lepotaire (who would play Cleopatra in the BBC version a decade later) as Charmian. Antony’s shame of showing defeat and weakness in front of Cleopatra. And the pretty severe cuts to the script don’t seem to have hurt it much (but they do allow for more time to be spent on the battle…).

Otherwise, however, it’s not a very good film. Heston would direct again only twice, both in the 80’s (and in the first case, a seeming vanity project for his family). From my research, I found that this film was so poorly reviewed, that in never got a wide release in the US. No argument from me…and the film should get no viewing from you.

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