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5 Films that Immortalised Egyptian Queen Cleopatra in Popular Culture

A historical character who has transcended the pages of the tome to become a legend, Cleopatra further found immortality in various cinematic representations on the life of the Egyptian Queen.

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Updated:August 12, 2019, 11:30 AM IST
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5 Films that Immortalised Egyptian Queen Cleopatra in Popular Culture
The wax figure of actress Elizabeth Taylor in her role as 'Cleopatra' is pictured at Madame Tussauds Hollywood (Image courtesy: Reuters)
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The last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Cleopatra is one of the most famous figures of the ancient world, having been immortalised in Medieval and Renaissance literature, as well as being depicted in various coinage, sculptures, busts and paintings. Shakespeare has immortalised her love-affair with Mark Antony in his play Antony and Cleopatra, and in modern times, she has appeared in fine arts, burlesques, Hollywood films and brand imagery, turning into a pop culture icon of Egyptomania, or the renewed interest of Europeans in ancient Egypt during the nineteenth century.

There have been numerous films depicting the life of Cleopatra VII. A reign that lasted from 51BC to 30 BC, saw her becoming Queen of Egypt at just 18 and her first task as monarch was to resist the sovereign ambitions of Rome. It is believed that the Egyptian queen committed suicide on August 12, at the age of 39, within the palace or her tomb. Popular belief suggests that she allowed an asp or Egyptian cobra to bite and poison her when it seemed that defeat was imminent at the hands of Octavious Caesar.

A historical character who has transcended the pages of the tome to become a legend, Cleopatra further found immortality in various cinematic representations on the life of the Egyptian Queen.

Antony and Cleopatra (1908): The film starred Maurice Costello and Florence Lawrence in the titular roles and is based on William Shakespeare's play of the same name. It was the first film to dramatize the ill-fated romance between Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII of Egypt.

Caesar and Cleopatra (1945): The British Technicolor film by Gabriel Pascal starred Viven Leigh as the Egyptian queen and Claude Rains as Caesar. It was adapted from the play Caesar and Cleopatra (1901) by George Bernard Shaw and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The film followed Julius Caesar trying to resolve a feud between young Princess Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy and in the process falling for Cleopatra himself.

A Queen for Caesar (1962): The Italian-French historical drama set in 48 BC Egypt, focuses entirely on the dynastic struggle within Egypt leading up to the arrival of Caesar. Unlike other films about Caesar and Cleopatra, the film only sees Caesar at the very end when he arrives at The Ptolemaic Palace in Alexandria.

Cleopatra (1963): Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the epic historical drama starred Elizabeth Taylor in the eponymous role and chronicles the struggles of Cleopatra, the young Queen of Egypt, to resist the imperial ambitions of Rome. Cleopatra was the highest-grossing film of 1963 and also starred Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall, and Martin Landau in supporting roles.

Antony and Cleopatra (1972): The film was directed by Charlton Heston and he starred in it as well, In fact the film had him and Hildegarde Neil portray the titular roles of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. The picture was produced by Peter Snell from a screenplay by Federico De Urrutia and the director. While Heston asked Orson Welles to direct, he turned it down, so Heston decided to do it himself. Notably, Heston re-used leftover footage of the sea battle from his 1959 film Ben-Hur.

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