Cleopatra (1963)

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Cleopatra (1963) Movie Poster Image
Four-hour visual stunner requires patience, maturity.
  • NR
  • 1963
  • 248 minutes

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

The greatest loves inevitably involve great sacrifice and lead people to take extreme actions. If you're determined never to let love be your master, you'll never really know love.

Positive role models & representations

All characters' strengths and weaknesses are shown, except the villainous Octavius. Cleopatra is rarely seen wielding the power of state and is mostly shown manipulating people and events to further her ambitions for power. Both Caesar and Anthony are goaded by Cleopatra or driven by their love for her to take actions with calamitous results, but they're honorable, loyal men caught up in events and emotions beyond their control.

Violence

A few battle sequences with sword fights. Several dead bodies, one or two with small amounts of blood. Burning bodies after a battle mentioned. A severed head in a jar. Many people stab a single victim, whose robe becomes bloody. A man is speared in the chest. A man runs his own sword through himself. A servant knowingly drinks poison and falls over. A man and a woman slap each other in the face several times in one fight. Several dramatic death scenes.

Sex

A dozen or so kisses, a few of which are in bed. Mention of Cleopatra's "sexual talents" and that she uses them. Several instances of semi-nudity: part of bare buttocks and breast seen from the side; a dancer with pasties for a top; people bathing bare from the chest up; an apparently naked woman under sheer fabric. A woman places a man's hand on her breast, then on her hips.

Language

"Whore" used once.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

People frequently drink from goblets, but what they're drinking isn't specified. Julius Caesar mentions he's given up wine. A soldier drinks from a wineskin in celebration. Marc Anthony seems to take refuge in alcohol and is somewhat drunk a couple of times.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that at four hours in length, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Cleopatra asks a lot of its viewers. Only the most ardent cinephile teens, perhaps already acquainted with the history of the production, are likely to enjoy going along for a ride that feels so sedate, mostly because it's so long. Battles include sword fighting. There are dead bodies, including part of a severed head, and some with small amounts of blood. There's some semi-nudity, with parts of bare buttocks and breasts, including a dancer with pasties. Otherwise sexual content mostly includes a dozen or so kisses. Heavy on politics and strategy, one of literature's greatest love triangles is demonstrated from a perspective best appreciated by viewers who've endured long-term relationships themselves, and who are capable of patiently waiting for events and emotions to unfold.

User Reviews

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

Egypt is ruled by a brother and sister, neither of whom wants to share the throne. To help settle things down in its richest province, Rome sends its leader Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) to Egypt. There he meets the sister, Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) and the two fall in love. Ambition drives Julius and Cleopatra to try and make Julius emperor of Rome, which was then a republic, but their efforts end in tragedy. Several years later, Rome's famous general Marc Anthony (Richard Burton) travels to Egypt to negotiate with Cleopatra for goods to supply the army, and they in turn fall head over heels in love. Their great love fuels an even greater ambition to rule the known world together, but it also seals their downfall as Egypt's glorious pharaonic era comes to an end.

Is it any good?

CLEOPATRA is a remarkable achievement, and though by no means flawless, it's a must-see for the Hollywood completist. Much ado was made about this legendary production, and it really is something. It was the most expensive film ever made to that date, and was notoriously plagued with problems frequently reported in the press: over budget, over time, and of course the notoriously volatile relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

The movie itself? Visually stunning. In the days before computer graphics, the magnificent sets were all built to scale, including a particularly glorious sea battle. Cleopatra's entrance into Rome is, almost inarguably, the greatest spectacle ever filmed. Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar brings a noble weariness to that devilish twinkle in his eye. Richard Burton as Marc Anthony was justifiably rocketed to a top box-office draw for the next decade. Elizabeth Taylor's costumes, as befit the legend of Cleopatra, are breathtaking. But Cleopatra herself is perhaps where the movie dates itself, as it focuses so much on beauty and ambition and less on other characteristics of a charismatic leader. Overambitious to many, Cleopatra covers so much territory that it's difficult to emotionally engage with it as it's slowly unfolding. Teens and kids who are not fascinated by the politics of ancient Rome have a long wait. And once action and romance come to the forefront, they're portrayed from a mature perspective that may not be relatable to those with little patience and experience with long-term relationships. With so much to think about, and so much to take in, it might be better saved for a time when everyone has the time and inclination to savor it slowly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Cleopatra might be portrayed today. Her beauty is legendary, but does this movie show anything else interesting about her? What do you know about the real Cleopatra?

  • Marc Anthony says that if you never let love be your master, you'll never really know love. What does he mean by that? Is he right?

  • What's the craziest thing you've ever done for love, whether for a family member, a pet, or in a romantic relationship?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love classics

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate