It’s Friday, so welcome to the third film in our six-week Friday Film Focus on Antony and Cleopatra. Each week, I’ll present a capsule review of an A&C video, with full reviews coming in a future podcast.
In 1984, as part of the ongoing Bard Productions from TMW, director Lawrence Carra filmed a production of the play for video release, starring Timothy Dalton as Antony and Lynn Redgrave as Cleopatra.
If one finds the BBC soundstage-bound productions stagey, then what is to be said for a soundstage set that looks like a small theater stage? Stagey, really stagey. What’s strange is that the big name actors make the stage feel even smaller, as if both Dalton and Redgrave–in their melodramatic, outsized performances–dwarf the stage. Both leads look the part–he in a grizzled beard, she in a big fat Greek wig–but their voices carry too much of the ponderous Shakespeare and not enough of the melodic.
The rest of the cast does not fare much better, and what a cast it is (rivaling a late-70s episode of Fantasy Island): General Hospital’s too-modern-by-half Anthony Geary as Octavian, an old (and cue-card-reading) John Carradine as the Soothsayer, and in a nod(ding wink) to Star Trek (?!), Nichelle Nichols as Charmian and Walter Koenig as Pompey (I was half expecting William Shatner to show up, all in white, declaiming, “I am. Great Ceasar’s. Ghost.”).
There are only the most minor of textual cuts in this long, three-hour production, during the second half of which there’s quite a bit of shouting; when it’s not melodramatic (and sometimes because it is), it becomes laugh-inducing though it’s not trying to be.
There are some positive aspects to point out: Enobarbus’ “barge” speech works, especially with his enthralled discussion of Cleopatra herself. Antony not paying any attention to his military advisers, staring only at Cleopatra. Redgraves’s Cleopatra coming alive when in the presences of Octavian, a charm that almost brings the young conqueror to kiss her hand. And Charmian’s prompting of the messenger while standing behind Cleopatra is a wonderful addition.
But there’s just too much that outweighs those good things. Clumsy camera moves and editing. An almost demented Antony in the second half of the play. And the overdone quality that pervades every performance.
I would recommend this…as one to avoid.