Cleopatra (1999)



Director:     Franc Roddam.

Starring:      Leonor Varela (Cleopatra), Timothy Dalton (Julius Caesar), Billy Zane (Marc Antony), Rupert Graves (Octavian).

Made for TV.

The new angle here is the sexier image of Cleopatra in the guise of Leonor Varela.   


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Egypt, 47 BC.  Cleopatra, the twenty year old Queen of Egypt is in exile.  Her brother and sister have stolen the throne.  Egypt is part of the Roman Empire and is in debt to Rome.  The Great Julius Caesar and his army have come to Alexandria to collect the debt.  Cleopatra awaits at the borders, plotting her return. 

A roman officer welcomes Caesar to Alexandria.  Caesar goes to see King Ptolemy, who is only twelve years of age.  The pretty Queen of Egypt, Arsinoe, the King's sister, is older.  Pothinus is the King's prime minister.  The other sister, Cleopatra, has left the country.  The Egyptian army of 20,000 men are out pursuing Cleopatra. 

In the desert.  A whore comes to Cleopatra.  She is said to be a very successful courtesan.  Cleopatra asks her how to get a man to fall in love with her.  The man is Julius Caesar. 

Caesar calls in the royal storekeeper.  He gives the order to kill the man for letting the stored grains be stolen.  A man with a rug comes in to see Caesar.  With him are men carrying a large rug.  The men unroll the rug and out rolls Cleopatra.  Caesar has a big smile on his face for the woman.  And he laughs heartily.  He help s stand up and then walks around her examining her.  She says she's the daughter of Isis.  Cleopatra also says that her father crowned her before he died, so she is the true ruler of Egypt. 

Cleopatra says her family will have her killed once they know she has returned.  The only bed safe enough for hers, she says, is Caesar's.  She opens a secret door and takes Caesar over to the bed.  She kisses him and then lays on the bed.  They have sex off camera.

The royal family and Pothinus comes to see Caesar.  They are shocked to see Cleopatra.  The two sisters argue with each other about who is the true ruler.  Caesar has decided that Ptolemy will rule as King, but Cleopatra will be the Queen.  Arsinoe says:  "This is outrageous!"  Cleopatra laughs.  She stops laughing when Caesar tells her, she will marry her brother.  Cleopatra is furious with Caesar, who now sends Ptolemy and Arsinoe away.  Caesar tells the Queen that she must first learn how to be a Queen.  She must think strategically like a queen.   

Caesar has the head of Pothinus cut off.   Arsinoe sees this and has an escort take her out to the Egyptian army.  There she gives the command to get the ships loaded to sail for Alexandria:  She adds:  "We march at first light."

Caesar and Cleopatra learn that the enemy is coming by land and sea.  The two leaders decide to let the Egyptians enter the palace area.  They they will trap the enemy army and kills its soldiers.  Caesar gets his men in the right position and then has his troops let the Egyptian army into the city.  There the two armies charge each other.    Rebel horsemen break through.  Cleopatra grabs a spear and kills the horsemen who chases her.  All this happens while parts of the palace are burning. 

The army starts running away.  Arsinoe tries to stop them, but she can't.  The just run past her.  Caesar shouts:  "Victory!"  He rushes in to greet Cleopatra.  The two embrace.  The Alexandrian library is destroyed in the struggle.  The Romans now trap Ptolomey and Arsinoe.  Ptolemy is killed when his chariot crashes.  Arsinoe has been taken prisoner.  Now Cleopatra takes part in the official coronation.  Cleopatra wants Arsinoe, but Caesar says she is valuable to him. 

Cleopatra comes to see her sister in her jail cell.  She says that Arsinoe murdered their father.  Cleopatra has one of her guards kill her sister.  Caesar catches Cleopatra in the jail area and demands that she never cross him again. 

Caesar and Cleopatra travel on her barge on the Nile.  They act like lovebirds.  He says he hasn't seen his Roman wife in years.  He did have a daughter, Julia, but she died.  They visit a sphinx with a pyramid in the background.  Caesar says he must return to Rome.  As he prepares to leave for home, Cleopatra learns that she is pregnant.  She is very happy.  Her Roman physician tells her that the child, even if it is Caesar's, will not be tolerated by Rome.  But Cleopatra says Caesar can do anything he wants, for he is a god. 

Caesar tells Rufio that he is leaving him three Roman legions to keep the peace in Egypt.  Cleopatra comes to tell him she is pregnant, but seeing him preparing to leave she becomes angry.  She says if he leaves her now, he will lose both Egypt and her.  He assures her that he will come back to her.  The hug and kiss, but then Caesar leaves. 

In the Roman Senate, Brutus argues with Marc Antony and Octavian.  He says he has neglected Rome.  As they argue, Caesar appears in the Senate. 

Caesar wants Cleopatra to come to Rome.  Cleopatra is insulted by the fact that Caesar himself did not write to her.  She petulantly decides not to go and tells Rufio that she declines the invitation.   she goes back to passing sentence on various law breakers.  A man who struck a Roman officer is brought to her.  He says he stole grain because he and her people are starving.  The thief then says Cleopatra doesn't care about her own people. 

Cleopatra checks out the grain situation.  Most of it is going to be sent to Rome.  She has the grain silos opened  and the grain handed out to the people.  The people are reluctant to take the grain because of what the Romans might do to them.  But with some coaxing, the people start taking the grain. 

Cleopatra gives birth to Caesar's son.  She names him Ptolemy Caesar against the advice of her counselors.  She says now she shall go to Rome and present the child to Caesar.  But it is not Caesar that comes, but Marc Antony.  Antony apologizes for Caesar not coming to see her.  Cleopatra has her child hidden away and she goes with Antony to the Senate.  Antony takes Cleopatra to one of his houses.  He warns Cleopatra that things are very tough for Caesar as of now.    She is to come tomorrow for a welcoming ceremony at his house. 

Caesar sneaks into Cleopatra's room while she is sleeping.  She is happy to see him, but is also mad at him.  His name is Ptolemy Caesar, but she calls him Caesarion. 

The Queen of Egypt is presented at Caesar's home.  She meets Calpurnia, the wife of Caesar.  She also meets Octavius and Octavia and Brutus.  Caesar rides in a parade with the "spoils" from Egypt.  He announces the Queen, but the crowd just boos her.   They call her "Caesar's whore".  Insulted, Cleopatra leaves.  Octavius says if Cleopatra doesn't like their Roman ways, maybe she should go home.  Cleopatra brings out the son of Caesar.  she sets the child down on the floor.  If Caesar picks up the child, he will be be claiming the baby.  Caesar picks up his son and says:  "This is my son.."  Calpurnia is very upset about this news.

Caesar is angry with Cleopatra, but he can's stay that way.  He tells her it is not safe for her here.  Cleopatra will leave soon.  Marc Antony dines with Cleopatra.  Conspirators are killing the guards around Cleopatra.    Antony saves Cleopatra from certain death. 

Caesar appears in the Senate.  He takes the title of dictator for life.  Caesar also says they will conquer Parthia.  After the meeting he goes to see Cleopatra.  She wants Caesar to divorce Calpurnia and declare Caesarion his rightful heir.  Caesar says he cannot do that.  Cleopatra says she will go back home.  She says their son is in danger.  Caesar reiterates that he cannot, so Cleopatra says that he is dead to her.  Caesar tells her to go back home. 

Brutus and other conspirators ask Octavius to join them against Caesar.  Octavius says he could never betray Caesar, but he won't stand against Brutus and his men. The next day Caesar is killed by the conspirators.  At the same time Cleopatra senses that something is wrong.  Antony cradles the dead Caesar's head.  At night Antony speaks out against the murderers.  Cleopatra, in a disguise, comes to the square to hear Antony and learn that Caesar is dead.   Antony says he will avenge the death of Caesar.  Cleopatra cries quietly. 

Antony goes after the armies of the various conspirators.  He ambushes the enemy force.  Antony himself charges after the leader.  They corner him and he kills himself with his own sword.  Two other conspirators are killed under the supervision of Octavius. 

Antony and Octavius meet.  Antony says that Cassius is dead, by his own hand.  Brutus is still at large, say Antony, but Octavius has the head of Brutus in a basket before him.  Octavius and Antony now rule Rome together.  Cleopatra is certain that Octavius will attack Egypt.  She is presently building what she says will be the most powerful fleet in the world.  They are building 200 ships of war.

Cleopatra learns that Antony is in Tarsus (in south central Turkey near the southern coat).  She says she will go there at once.  Antony's advisers tell him that they are almost out of supplies and the men haven't been paid for months.  Just then Antony sees Cleopatra in her ship approaching.  Antony comes aboard her ship.  They have dinner and she gives him a chest of gold, but she withholds sex from Antony.  He comes down to her bedroom chamber and forces the issue.  They have sex. 

Cleopatra asks Antony to come to Egypt with her and break his alliance with Octavius.  He says he can't do it, so she says then he will never see her again.  She tells him to go back to his superiors in Rome.  Antony and Octavius meet for the dividing up of Roman territories between the two men.  Antony tells Octavius to stay out of Egypt.  The east goes to Antony and the rest goes to Octavius, who now wants to be called Caesar.  Now Octavius asks Antony to marry Octavia, his sister.  Antony accepts. 

Cleopatra is very depressed when she learns of the upcoming marriage of Antony to Octavia.  She asks for help from her god Isis.  Later she and her son go visit the Temple of Isis. 

Marc Antony and his fleet arrives.  He comes to see Cleopatra.  In private the two quarrel over Octavia.  Antony says:  "I married for convenience, now I live for love."    He said he is hers now.  "I give myself to Egypt."  At night they are in bed together talking about their life together.

Marc Antony tells a huge crowd that he rejects his Roman marriage and have taken as his wife Cleopatra.  He also bequeaths the land of Syria to the throne of Ptolemy.  For this Octavius tells the Senate that Antony has broken their pact.  He declares a "just and righteous" war against Antony and Cleopatra. 

In Gaul two of Antony's generals refuse to join Octavius.  One is killed and the other wounded, but he gets away.   Antony comes to see the wounded general.  Strike first!  Antony won't wait for Octavius.  They shall attack Octavius.  But the fleet of Octavius has already arrived.  And now the sea Battle of Actium begins.  The Egyptian fleet sails right into a trap.  The Roman throw fire balls onto the Egyptian ships and they start burning.

Cleopatra fights for her life with a Roman soldier.  She is able to kill him.  Antony falls overboard off his ship. Cleopatra has to return to her palace.  When she retires to her quarters, she breaks down and cries.  She prays that Isis not turn from her and Egypt now. 

Antony and Cleopatra come together again.  She tells him that she thought he was dead.  Antony says:  "I am dead."  But Cleopatra doesn't think she is defeated yet.  After some thought, however, she asks for a deal with Octavius.  She will abdicate if her son Caesarion is allowed to sit on the throne of Egypt.   She finds Antony drunk with men and women dancing around him.  Antony tries to kill himself by falling on his sword, but Cleopatra stops him by pulling the sword away. 

Octavius tells Rufio to tell Cleopatra to deliver to him the head of Marc Antony.  Rufio goes back and tells Cleopatra it's better to sacrifice Antony, than Egypt.  Cleopatra takes Antony to her future tomb. She has reserved a place so he can travel with her.  But Antony is not ready to die.  He wants to fight Octavius in the desert. 

The two armies charge each other.  Octavius's horse is hit with an arrow and goes down.  Octavius fight on the field of battle.  He becomes surrounded by soldiers, but he is saved at the last minute by a general in a chariot.   Cleopatra gives her son to the physician who will take Caesarion with him to safety. 

Octavius won the battle and is marching on the palace now.  He will be there at the castle within an hour.  Antony is brought back to the castle.  A priest brings a basket with asps in it.  Cleopatra gets to see Antony  once again.  She cries over the wounded Antony.  He tells her he will be waiting for her in the next life.  Antony dies in her arms.  Cleopatra screams in agony.  The general with Antony tries to kill Octavius, but is killed by a spear thrown into his back. 

Octavius goes in to see Cleopatra.  He finds Antony dead.  Octavius tells Cleopatra to come with him to Rome.  She tells him she is a goddess, a daughter of Isis.  Octavius says that he has won and she will come to Rome with him.  She says she will bury Antony and then come to Octavius as the Queen of Egypt.  Octavius agrees and leaves.  He tells Rufio to go in and make sure Cleopatra doesn't harm herself.  the Queen kisses Antony's corpse and then covers his head with the sheet. 

Cleopatra puts on her crown and prays.  Rufio comes in, but Cleopatra tells him to give her some time to pray.  She convinces the reluctant Rufio to go.  One outside the main door, the door is closed and locked behind Rufio.  Cleopatra tells her servants to bring the asps.  The servants also say they will die together with their queen.  Cleopatra takes out a snake and lets it bite her on the chest.   The servants lay her down. 

The Romans break the door in, but Octavius and Rufio arrive after all three women are dead.  Octavius says:  "You've won Cleopatra.  Farewell, Egypt."


Good movie.  There are lots of problems with the history part of the film.  The Queen of Egypt was already married to her brother when Caesar met her.  There is nothing about Pompey's severed head.  Another younger brother Ptolemy XIV was made the new co-ruler with Cleopatra.  Cleopatra, Ptolemy XIV and Caesarion visited Rome in summer 46 BC.  And such things go on and on.  Better at least to read the article on Cleopatra.  I enjoyed Leonor Varela as Cleopatra and at last they used a brown Cleopatra, instead of a white Cleopatra.  That's some progress at least. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.





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