Cleopatra (1963) Special Edition

Cleopatra (1963) Special Edition

Static Mass Rating: 4/5


Release Date: December 20th, 2010
Certificate (UK): PG
Running Time: 248 minutes

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, Roddy McDowall

Based on the novel The Life and Times of Cleopatra by C.M. Franzero, this re-telling of the ancient Egyptian queen’s affair with Julius Caeser who then, following his murder, turns her affections to Mark Antony, is famous for its tumultuous production and escalating budget which almost sent 20th Century Fox into bankruptcy.

The movie begins with Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison) arriving in Egypt to help resolve the differences between Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) and her brother young Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII (Richard O’Sullivan).

Eventually Cleopatra and Caeser begin an affair with Cleopatra taking the throne of Egypt once Ptolemy has been dealt with. It is not enough for the Queen to rule over Egypt though and she sets her sights on the world with Ceaser at her side. When they leave for Rome, Cleopatra is welcomed with much adoration but it is here that the senators plot and carry out Ceaser’s murder.

The Queen without her king returns to Egypt, realising Rome holds no future for her. Mark Antony (Richard Burton), one of Ceaser’s friends and supporters, forms a political alliance with Octavian (Roddy McDowall), Caesar’s nephew and heir. He falls in love with Cleopatra who demands a third of the empire. Their union acts as a catalyst for war when the rivalry between Octavian and Antony reaches its boiling point and the Battle of Actium begins, ultimately dooming the lovers.

Cleopatra’s original budget was $2 million and during its production rose to a staggering $44 million due to the sets which had to be built, props, costumes and delays which threatened to shut the shut the studio down and forced Fox to start selling off huge sections of its backlot. Elizabeth Taylor’s fee alone eventually rose to $7 million. Cleopatra managed to get Taylor, with her 65 costume changes, into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most costume changes in a film. The record would be broken in 1996 when Madonna changed wardrobe 85 times for Evita.

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Despite its commercial failure, Cleopatra went on to receive 9 Academy Award® nominations, winning 4 of them.

1963 Academy Awards


  • Best Cinematography
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Visual Effects


  • Best Picture
  • Best Actor (Rex Harrison)
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Original Score
  • Best Sound Mixing

After Cleopatra’s original 6-hour cut was screened for the studio, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz succumbed to pressure and re-cut it to 4 hours which was still deemed too long. Mankiewicz made another cut which was just over 3 hours to help theatres increase the number of showings per day. The original 6 hour cut has never been released but hopefully the missing footage will be restored for a future Blu-ray release.

In the meantime, Fox have released a Special Edition 2 Disc set today which contains the 4 hour version.

Cleopatra (1963)

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