WCW: Who’s the Best Cleopatra?

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Cleopatra is easily the most famous woman of the ancient world. Pharaoh of Egypt, naval commander, linguist — and, of course, maybe incredibly beautiful (the jury is out). She’s been put on screen multiple times — let’s take a look, and then vote: which actress/performance has best captured Cleopatra for either, either as a real historical person or a fictionalized character?

 

Cleopatra (1917)

Played by Theda Bara, costumed by George James Hopkins in this sadly lost silent film:

Cleopatra (1917) Theda Bara Cleopatra (1917) Theda Bara Cleopatra (1917) Theda Bara

 

Cleopatra (1934)

Played by Claudette Colbert, costumed by Vicky Williams:

1934 Cleopatra Claudette Colbert 1934 Cleopatra Claudette Colbert 1934 Cleopatra Claudette Colbert

 

Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)

Played by Vivien Leigh, costumed by Oliver Messel:

1945 Caesar and Cleopatra Vivien Leigh 1945 Caesar and Cleopatra Vivien Leigh 1945 Caesar and Cleopatra Vivien Leigh

 

Cleopatra (1963)

Played by Elizabeth Taylor, costumed by Vittorio Nino Novarese and Renié.

 

The Cleopatras (1983)

Played by Michelle Newell, costumed by Barbara Kidd:

1983 The Cleopatras 1983 The Cleopatras

 

Cleopatra (1999)

Played by Leonor Varela, costumed by Enrico Sabbatini:

1999 Cleopatra Leonor Varela 1999 Cleopatra Leonor Varela 1999 Cleopatra Leonor Varela

 

Rome (2005-07)

Played by Lyndsey Marshal, costumed by April Ferry:

2005-7 Rome Lyndsey Marshal 2005-7 Rome Lyndsey Marshal 2005-7 Rome Lyndsey Marshal

 

Let’s Vote

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

22 Responses

  1. Elizabeth

    Lyndsey Marshal in Rome, no contest. To me she’s the most convincing Ptolemaic queen. Not just an Ancient Egyptian cliché.

    “I must have him, or I will die……so I will have him.”

    Reply
  2. Jill

    This is a tough one to vote on–each one is definitely a product of her own generation’s idea of fashion, glamour and allure. The real Cleopatra was probably not very physically attractive, but an authentically ugly or even plain one wouldn’t sell tickets!

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Looking closer at IMDB, it says:

      Costume Design by
      Vicky Williams … (uncredited)

      Costume and Wardrobe Department
      Travis Banton … costumes: Miss Colbert

      Reply
      • Andrew Schroeder

        Yeah he was head designer at Paramount so he designed Colbert’s costumes. Vicky Williams probably designed all the other characters and the extras.

        Reply
  3. picasso Manu

    Agree. Like Helen of Troy, we put ourselves in them. Except in Cleo’s case, everyone seems to forget she was Greek. Two spring out: Taylor because… well Taylor. And Vivien Leigh because I can’t shake the “Scarlett in Egypt” vibe.

    Reply
  4. Donna

    Taylor is iconic, but nobody beats Colbert. The Cleo in Rome is the series weakest point, absolutely hate her.

    Reply
  5. Cheryl

    Voting for Lyndsey Marshal. Cleo herself was determined but also young, capricious and authoritarian (22 when Caesarion was born). Marshal conveyed all of those qualities. Just wish once someone would show her with red hair (unclear if she had it, but there is archeological evidence) and a big nose (as in her identified portrait busts).

    Reply
  6. Rori

    Lyndsey Marshal hands down.

    Although i’m waiting for a depiction where they don’t make Cleopatra pretty which stems from patriarch reasons, Marshal did got her character right overall. Charismatic, intelligent, cunning.

    Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      Agreed, although no one could be cuter than Colbert in her nifty little Deco-Egypt outfits.

      (I wonder what Shaw made of the movie version of “C&C”? It’s a fun play–the concept of it as an epic film is ridiculous.)

      Reply
  7. Mel

    Honestly, I loved Gina Torres as Cleopatra. But that was a guest role on a TV show. Not a movie. And certainly not historically accurate at all.

    Elizabeth Taylor is the only one here I’ve actually seen. So I’d have to go with her.

    Reply
    • Alys Mackyntoich

      Don’t feel too bad — Gina Torres was my first response too. :-)

      Reply
  8. Peacoclaur

    Liz Taylor FTW – not historically accurate by a long shot but wins on sheer fabulosity of the costumes.

    On a side note, I’ve always been a little disappointed that someone along the lines of either Melina Mercouri or Irene Pappas has never played Cleopatra on screen as I would really love to have seen what they or other actress from the eastern Mediterranean would have brought to Cleo on the screen.

    Reply
  9. Lynn Swanson

    Lyndsey Marshal for characterization (1st choice) and Liz Taylor for costume.

    Reply
  10. MrsC

    It has to be Lyndsey Marshal for me because her performance inspired an unforgettable moment in post op when drug fuddled me walked my foot up the leg of the dishy anesthetist. That moment had been in the preview on high rotation on TV the previous week! He was very nice about it.

    Reply

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