Let’s Get Epic With Cleopatra (1963)

29

You’ve heard about the enormous budget, you know the stars, you’ve seen the gold lamé. Let’s do this!

 

 

We start with Rome finishing up a civil war, and Caesar is victorious.

Cleopatra (1963)

Rex Harrison as Caesar looks very Rex Harrison-y.

Caesar heads to Egypt, where Cleopatra’s lil’ bro Ptolemy is being a whiny bitch.

Cleopatra (1963)

Kitty!

Cleopatra (1963)

But *I’M* the King of Egypt!!!

The Egyptians give Caesar a fancy gift. Caesar seems embarrassed he forgot to bring something in exchange.

Cleopatra (1963)

Someone sends Caesar another gift. Dang, he really should have thought about bringing a bottle of wine.

Cleopatra (1963)

Ta da! It’s Cleopatra herself! Not the most comfortable way to travel.

Cleopatra (1963)

Caesar and Cleo do some wheeling and dealing.

Cleopatra (1963)

This first outfit we see Cleopatra in isn’t super anachronistic, but I’m not saying it’s super authentic either.

Cleopatra thinks important thoughts while doing her makeup. Also, half nude.

Cleopatra (1963)

I want this dressing table like whoa.

Cleopatra (1963)

Naked brainstorms are the best.

Next day, lounging around, Cleopatra decides to give Caesar a treat in her bath.

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleo’s blue tunic is very St. Tropez, but you get a good view of her handmaiden’s trying-to-be-Ancient-Egyptian gown.

Cleopatra (1963)

Check out Cleo’s wig stand on the left! Nice touch.

Cleopatra (1963)

This is what I call a full-service salon.

Cleopatra (1963)

Playboy shoot circa 30 BC.

Machinations continue, and the Romans burn the Library at Alexandria. Cleo gets pissed.

Cleopatra (1963)

MFW Mr. Mansplainer drones on.

There’s some more boring battles and armor, blah blah blah. But meanwhile, Cleopatra practices her eyeliner on fake heads, and I’m kind of obsessed with this scene (OK, really, it’s about her brother trying to poison her, but check these details!).

Cleopatra (1963)

No time for cocktails, it’s all about that kohl.

Cleopatra (1963)

The painting tools on the table kind of do resemble ancient Egyptian toiletry items found in museums (compare these kohl sets at the British Museum).

Cleopatra (1963)

The handmaidens were attending to Cleo’s wigs and perfume.

Ptolemy’s overdressed eunuch is sentenced to death for trying to poison Cleopatra.

Cleopatra (1963)

Taking one for the team.

Cleopatra (1963)

First time we’ve seen Rex out of uniform.

Cleopatra (1963)

Note this corset-y dress style; it will get reused A LOT.

After the trial, Cleopatra takes pity on Rex / Ceasar.

Cleopatra (1963)

But this is not at all hot.

At least that snoozy kiss gets Cleo the crown she wants.

Cleopatra (1963)
Cleopatra (1963)

Dude, you’re harshing my royal buzz.

Time for some boring post-coronation boning.

Cleopatra (1963)
Cleopatra (1963)

Flashing boob doesn’t help when you’re wearing a muumuu.

To continue the least sexy date ever, let’s visit the tomb of Alexander the Great.

Cleopatra (1963)

Wearing purple poly and shiny beads on her head. Guess you can do whatever you want once you’re Queen of Egypt.

Back in Rome, Antony tells Ceasar’s wife she’s been ditched.

Cleopatra (1963)

Booze helps, amirite?

Time for a pagan ritual!

Cleopatra (1963)
Cleopatra (1963)

The lurex is strong with this one.

Cleopatra and Caesar have a baby, destined to wear pleather and gold lamé. Back in Rome, the people get cranky at these developments. Roddy McDowell, getting typecast as a sneaky bastard, stirs the pot.

Cleopatra (1963)

Men in diapers, never a good look, historically accurate or not.

Cleopatra (1963)

No diapers on Richard Burton — nice butt cheek!

Caesar has to leave Egypt and fix shit in Rome.

Cleopatra (1963)

I still don’t buy their relationship.

Good news! Caesar is declared dictator for life, so Cleo makes a beeline for Rome.

Cleopatra (1963)

This dress is the same style as the purple one worn in the trial scene.

Arriving in town, Cleopatra sends in her advance team, consisting of…

Cleopatra (1963)

Oddly girlish archers.

Cleopatra (1963)

Dancers imported from Las Vegas.

Cleopatra (1963)

Culturally sensitive (ehem) African dancers.

Cleopatra (1963)

And a tasteful pyramid float or two.

Cleopatra (1963)

The crowd goes wild!

Cleopatra (1963)

But the Roman biddies disapprove.

Cleopatra (1963)

Finally the Sphinx itself arrives!

Cleopatra (1963)

FULLY COMMITTED TO SPARKLE MOTION.

Cleopatra (1963)

Rex only has eyes for his kid.

Cleopatra (1963)

Aww yiss, Marc Antony noticed.

Cleopatra and her kid settle in Rome, thinking Ceaser-as-dictator is gonna work out in their favor.

Cleopatra (1963)

The royal swim cap will totally endear me to the citizens of Rome.

Cleopatra (1963)

Aren’t we a gleesome threesome?

But lots of boring political crap in Rome and equally boring costumes mean bad juju is coming for Cleo.

Cleopatra (1963)

Shit’s going down, time for basic garb.

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra calls up another ritual to see what’s happening — you’d think if she wanted to see into the future, she’d have tried a little bit earlier.

The conspiracy in the Roman Senate turns on Caesar (‘Et tu, Brute?‘), and Rex Harrison is out of the picture. So Cleopatra has to GTFO and head back to Egpt.

Cleopatra (1963)

That’s a lot of sternum for a mourning gown. Not that Marc Antony is complaining.

Sneakily little Roddy McDowell claims Ceaser as a title, while Marc Antony does the hard work as he pines for Cleo. In Egypt, Cleopatra puts on her big hat and gets down to business.

Cleopatra (1963)

Marc Antony wants to meet her again. She debates the merits of this idea while in the bath.

Cleopatra (1963)

I like big boats and I cannot lie.

She’ll meet him on her terms, natch.

Cleopatra (1963)

There is a palm tree ON THE BOAT, people.

Cleopatra (1963)

Disco mama!

Marc Antony wears his turquoise and leopard armor for the occasion.

Cleopatra (1963)

They’re really impressed.

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleo’s sparkly white number is very 1960s hostess wife, especially with that curled beehive hair.

The sparks fly between Marc and Cleopatra at dinner.

Cleopatra (1963)

Marc Antony gets drunk while watching half-naked girls dance.

Cleopatra (1963)

Everything’s better with body glitter. Also, booze.

Cleopatra (1963)

Bacchus. OK. And a fake Cleopatra.

Cleopatra (1963)

Did we mention body glitter?

Cleopatra (1963)

This movie. I just don’t know.

He finally goes around to find the real Cleopatra in bed, bored and unimpressed. He kills more screen time getting a lot of stupid man-stuff off his chest about Caesar before he and Cleo can makeout.

Cleopatra (1963)

She doesn’t care about your daddy issues.

Cleopatra (1963)

Shaddup and kiss me!

Cleopatra (1963)

That’s what we’re talking about.

They do the deed, and he dilly-dallies about returning to Rome.

Cleopatra (1963)

Seriously, how many bath scenes are in this movie?

Cleopatra (1963)

This green dress is a repeat of the peach one. Marc Antony sure has a a lot of clothes hanging on that rack — guess he’s moved in.

In Rome, Octavian finagled a political marriage for Marc Antony. Uh-oh.

Cleopatra (1963)

You’ll be great together!

Cleopatra (1963)

He did what? With who? Are you fucking kidding me?

Cleopatra (1963)

Pillow stabbing, the 30 BC equivalent of eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s when you find out you’ve been cheated on.

Cleopatra (1963)

Oh girl. Ugly crying and gold lamé. We’ve all been there.

Cleopatra (1963)

Awkward dinner with the new Mr. & Mrs. Antony.

Marc Antony returns to Egypt to fix things with Cleopatra. Good luck, mister.

Cleopatra (1963)

I’ve got my crook and flail, and I’m not taking any of your bullshit, Marky Mark.

Finally, he gets some private time with her. OK, watch the costumes. First, Cleopatra is in red and purple with a gold fully beaded wig, while Marc Antony is in white armor.

Cleopatra (1963)

Yet another dress in the same style she’s been wearing all movie, btw.

Cleopatra (1963)

Argument continues…

Now, practically mid-word, they’re in a different room but with different costumes. And it happens TWICE!

Cleopatra (1963)

Now, she’s wearing a structured white dress with a sheer gold overgown and a wig with beads at the ends, plus a gold headdress.

Cleopatra (1963)

He’s out of armor and is in a red tunic.

WE’RE STILL TALKING HERE.

Cleopatra (1963)

And she gets one more costume change! Now it’s a white jumpsuit, a beaded black robe, and a long, loose wig.

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleo in pants!

Cleopatra (1963)

But they kiss and make up.

Back in the Egyptian throne room, it’s all shiny.

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra’s son presiding — don’t get used to it, kid.

Egypt and Rome are gearing up for a fight. Octavian’s still out there somewhere causing trouble.

Cleopatra (1963)

Holy shit, it’s another royal swim cap! That’d drive me to drink too.

We get one last wacky Cleo costume during the battle, but mostly it’s all smoke and armor.

Cleopatra (1963)

This coat is very 1960s pimpin’.

Cleopatra (1963)

I swear, they had two basic dress designs for her in this movie; for this one, they just added long sleeves.

Cleopatra leaves the battle when she thinks Marc Antony is dead, but, of course, he isn’t and he’s gonna hold that against her.

Cleopatra (1963)

Woe is me.

Cleopatra (1963)

This feels more ’40s Joan Crawford than anything else.

Tedious Octavian is still advancing, so there’s some court biz to deal with.

Cleopatra (1963)

Is it Mardi Gras?

One last argument and cuddle, then Marc Antony is gone (this is gonna be a pattern with Burton-Taylor).

Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra sends her son off to get killed while she contemplates her own lack of a future.

Cleopatra (1963)

Marc Antony does the manly thing and falls on his sword.

Cleopatra (1963)

Octavian takes over Egypt, and his pals take a bath.

Cleopatra (1963)

I mean, this movie and baths.

While Cleopatra gets it on with an asp.

Cleopatra (1963)

Geezuz, that was four hours and a lot of lurex! And I only focused on Elizabeth Taylor’s record-setting 65 costumes. You can click on most of these pix to enlarge them and get all the super-shiny details.

 

Have you managed to make it all the way through Cleopatra? What did you think?

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

29 Responses

  1. mmcquown

    Go back to the 2nd picture. Why is there a Vulcan in a white robe? Maybe the bill for Cleo’s wardrobe was — out of this world? “Carry On Cleo” was probably more authentic. BTW, the Metropolitan has a few surviving remnants of linen from the era. White, of course.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      We have to cover the “Carry On…” episodes some day. They used a lot of costumes recycled from shows like “Elizabeth R” and “Anne of the Thousand Days.”

      Reply
  2. Vlad Krylov

    Haven’t watched this in years, thanks for reminding)) The headgear of the guy delivering rugged-in Cleo looks rather 14th century AD to me. And Mr Guy J Caesar in the “Mr. Mansplainer drones on” pic is wearing a black turtleneck sweater, if I see correctly. Beatle boots stayed out of the frame, obviously.

    Reply
  3. Susan Pola

    I thought I saw a ‘puddy cat’, but seriously folks wasn’t there a ocelot or cheetah in one of the scenes? Costumes screen 1960s and not in a good way. Supposed all the corsetry had to hold up La Liz’ rack. I preferred the Taming of the Shrew, costumes by Danilo Donati. He also is Zeffirelli’s go-to costumer. Romeo and Juliet with Olivia Hussey is one-night my all-time favourites.

    Only thing they got right, sort of, was Cleopatra VII’s language skills.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I didn’t find any big cats, just their skins (faux, I hope!). But it’s a long-ass movie, & I do get bored during these things ;-)

      Unlike the Zeffirelli Shakespeare in the ’60s, which I’ve also reviewed (use the search box or menus to find ’em here!).

      Reply
  4. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    This movie is pure campy costuming fun! The acting is overblown and melodramatic enough to suck the air and life out of an otherwise interesting story. At least they had the good sense to keep the corset UNDER La’Liz dresses. Nothing frosts my flakes more than a movie with the leads just running around in corsets and shifts. I’m looking at you Kiera Knightly! Because women were just running around court and the countryside willey-nilley in their underwear.

    Reply
  5. SarahV

    This has done nothing but reinforce my long-held belief that Richard Burton was the hottest thing, and that he and Liz must have had universe-exploding, mind-altering sex.

    Reply
  6. mmcquown

    Probably not, Sarah. People who are so self-absorbed as those two don’t usually have much left over for anyone else. If there were a mirror in the room, it probably got more attention from either of them.

    Reply
  7. Saraquill

    The movie takes place in an African country and multinational empire, yet anyone darker than beige is relegated to an extra. It was so then and continues to be in Hollywood.

    Also, it seems the costume department spent a lot of time highlighting Taylor’s bust.

    Reply
    • mmcquown

      For further exploration of Hollywood’s colour line, check out “Toms, Coons, Mullatoes, Mammies and Bucks” by Donald Bogle.

      Reply
  8. mmcquown

    I have never been sure exactly what race/ethnicity the ancient Egyptians were. It has been the fashion among revisionist historians to claim Cleopatra was black, but history says she was a Greek, the great-great-granddaughter of Ptolemy. We know that the Egyptians used slaves, including Jews and probably any other group of people they could get their hands on. The Nubians, the next big country over, were definitely black African, as was Balchis, the Queen of Sheba. So, yes, the background in Cleopatra should have been a lot darker.

    Reply
    • Saraquill

      Even if her ethnicity is what you say, Greeks tend to have browner skin than Taylor shows.

      Reply
      • Tina

        Yeah no.
        Greeks CAN have darker skin,just like they can have even lighter skin than Taylor. European mediterranean people in general can be of every skin shade from the palest pale to quite dark tan,depending on region,genetics,lifestyle (sun exposure) and even age. Even if we accept that most ancient Greeks were darker than Taylor,Cleopatra wasn’t simply Greek,she was of Macedonian ancestry,and Macedonian Greeks were often noted to have extremely light skin and even hair (Olympias,mother of Alexander the great is described as a pale redhead). Furthermore,even in the multicultural environment of Egypt and Ptolemaic Alexandria (it is true that ancient Egyptians,although not “African” the way we envision African people today,were surely darker and had in general different features from european people of the age), it is extremely unlikely that Cleopatra was of any mixed ancestry,as the Ptolemaic dynasty practiced rigorous incest to preserve their “divine” blood and ancestry.Even Cleopatra was married to her brother! Any extrafamiliar marriage would have been rare and several generations in the past,and even then they tended to marry other Hellenistic Greeks,especially from the rival Greek dynasties of the Balkans and the Near East.So while it is true that Hollywood purposefully downplayed and erased for decades,including in this film, the other ethnicities and skin tones which would certainly have existed and played a crucial role in such multiethnic and diverse historical settings, Cleopatra and her family most certainly were never meant to be African or even genuinely Egyptian.
        Tina

        Reply
  9. Sarah Lorraine

    Random pointless anecdote: My mother’s neighbor’s brother worked on the costumes for this film. I begged him for details when I found this out in my teens, but sadly, I can’t remember shit about what he said. Although he did say he kept a suit of armor.

    So, yeah. Useless tidbit there.

    Reply
  10. Yvonne

    Loved the costume blow by blow! Ha :) but Cleopatra will always be one of my favourite movies (I’m a sucker for anything ancient Egypt) and not all her costumes were terrible. I find many of the details, including the lame, easier to swallow than the metal painted collars in Tut. Now I need to watch this movie again (when I have 4 hoirs to spare) :)

    Reply
  11. dangerouswaters

    Also: Mark Antony’s epic miniskirts. At least that’s historically accurate :D

    Reply

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