×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cleopatra

<img src="http://www.variety.com/photos/cleo.jpg"><BR>She started out as Julius Caesar's bimbo eruption run amok, navigated a circuitous, deadly path as the Queen of Egypt and wound up folding a poisonous serpent to her breast as the kingdom began to cave in around her. Now, Cleopatra has been reduced to a May sweeps epic, but fortunately she's got Robert Halmi, pere et fils, on the case.

With:
Cleopatra - Leonor Varela Julius Caesar - Timothy Dalton Marc Antony - Billy Zane Octavian - Rupert Graves Rufio - John Bowe Olympos - Art Malik Mardian - Nadim Sawalha Grattius - Owen Teale Cornelius - Philip Quast Ahenobarbus - Daragh O'Malley Cassius - Bruce Payne Marcus Brutus - Sean Pertwee

She started out as Julius Caesar’s bimbo eruption run amok, navigated a circuitous, deadly path as the Queen of Egypt and wound up folding a poisonous serpent to her breast as the kingdom began to cave in around her. Now, Cleopatra has been reduced to a May sweeps epic, but fortunately she’s got Robert Halmi, pere et fils, on the case. The result is a Hallmark Entertainment-sized “Cleopatra” that is profoundly worthy of Cleo’s fabled legacy and easily the most entertaining big-ticket event of the month. Thirty-six years after the Liz Taylor-Richard Burton theatrical fiasco, somebody has finally gotten it right.

Beneath the jewels and headgear, the breastplates and silk resides a crackling good soap opera that the Halmis (in tandem with scribes Stephen Harrigan and Anton Diether and helmer Franc Roddam) have managed to render in grand style during four lively hours that fairly race by. Camp without being lame or buffoonish, “Cleopatra” is a lusty, tasty treat from start to finish.

A big part of that is due to the casting. Leonor Varela (“The Man in the Iron Mask”) appears to be all wrong for Cleopatra: Chilean-born, dark, diminutive, pouty, not terribly regal. But she turns out instead to be a true find, inhabiting the role with a smoldering gusto borne of defiant confidence. She uses those come-hither eyes to heart-fluttering impact, and the chemistry she enjoys with her Marc Antony (played by Billy Zane, who was Kate Winslet’s stuffy aristocratic fiance’ in “Titanic”) sets the screen literally aboil.

Varela and Zane linked up for real after production on “Cleopatra” wrapped, and it’s easy to see why. The passion in their love scenes embodies a certain heated, I-want-to-rip-off-your-clothes-and-ravish-you-forever quality. Yet Varela also connects believably with Timothy Dalton, who makes for a charismatic and commanding Julius Caesar. And her sheer silk outfits during night two are decidedly risque stuff for network primetime. With a grateful nod to costume designer Enrico Sabbatini, let’s call it Areolae on Parade.

The mini boldly, and at the outset with great theatricality, charts the pothole-laden road traveled by the feisty Queen of the Nile, characterizing Cleopatra as alternately scheming, manipulative, seductive, ruthless, fragile and tough (she even manages to wield a mean sword). The lady, in short, has chutzpah, which is clear from the moment that she’s delivered at the feet of Caesar inside a rug.

Caesar (about to jump his sexy visitor’s bones): “Can I trust you, Cleopatra?”

Cleo: “I am Egypt. And Egypt is yours. … For one night only.”

Now that’s good, solid, cheesy dialogue.

A tempestuous relationship between the two ensues as Cleo maneuvers her way into Caesar’s heart and to the top of his splintered kingdom. Varela in the process showcases a decidedly modern-thinking queen who reacts with spite when she is dismissed as “Caesar’s whore” — even after giving birth to his bastard son.

Second installment picks up after Caesar’s murder as Antony moves into the lover’s seat astride Cleopatra and the action heats up to illustrate the bloody battle for the heart and soul of the Roman Empire. Bonds are shattered. Hearts are broken. Blood is spilled by the gallon. And through it all, Cleopatra uses her wiles and sensuality to persevere — until her enemies prove too mighty.

The battle scenes are staged with excitement and flair by production designer Martin Hitchcock and lensed sharply and clearly by director of photography David Connell and his team.

And director Roddam, whose previous works include “Quadrophenia” and “Lords of Discipline,” masterfully steers the action with a sense of purpose. He is able to squeeze the maximum impact from a scene, whether it be a momentous proclamation or a quiet palace interlude.

But the bottom line here is that you won’t want to shut off “Cleopatra.” You just rarely get an opportunity to watch people this unctuously earnest wearing get-ups this insanely gaudy. And then there is Varela … who alone is well worth the price of admission. Expect this mini to reap vast riches in the sweeps kingdom.

Tech credits sparkle.

Cleopatra

ABC; Sun. May 23, Mon. May 24, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in London and Morocco by Hallmark Entertainment in association with Babelsberg Intl. Film Produktion. Executive producers, Robert Halmi Sr., Robert Halmi Jr.; producer, Dyson Lovell; director, Franc Roddam; writers, Stephen Harrigan, Anton Diether; based on the book by Margaret George.

Crew: Camera, David Connell; production designer, Martin Hitchcock; costume designer, Enrico Sabbatini; editor, Peter Coulson; music, Trevor Jones; sound, David Crozier; casting, Mike Fenton, Allison Cowitt, Carolyn Bartlett. 4 HOURS.

Cast: Cleopatra - Leonor Varela Julius Caesar - Timothy Dalton Marc Antony - Billy Zane Octavian - Rupert Graves Rufio - John Bowe Olympos - Art Malik Mardian - Nadim Sawalha Grattius - Owen Teale Cornelius - Philip Quast Ahenobarbus - Daragh O'Malley Cassius - Bruce Payne Marcus Brutus - Sean PertweeWith: David Schofield, Kassandra Voyagis, Indira Ove, Josephine Amankwah, Caroline Langrishe, Elisabeth Dermot Walsh, Ralph Brown, James Cosmo, Dennis Quilley, James Saxon.

More TV

  • Anders Holm and Tika Sumpter

    Anders Holm and Tika Sumpter Cast in 'Black-ish' Spinoff Episode

    Tika Sumpter and Anders Holm are joining the growing “Black-ish” world, Variety has learned. They will both star in the upcoming prequel episode, which could reportedly launch into its own spinoff series. As earlier reported, ABC is in development on the prequel that would focus on Tracee Ellis Ross’ character Rainbow. Holm will play Paul, Rainbow’s father, [...]

  • Writers Guild Blasts CAA, WME for

    Writers Guild Blasts Talent Agencies CAA, WME for 'Soaring' Profits

    The Writers Guild of America has singled out Hollywood’s largest talent agencies, William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency, for allegedly soaring profits. The WGA, in an acrimonious negotiation over proposed new rules about how agencies represent writers, issued a report called “agencies for sale” on Monday morning — a few hours before a fifth [...]

  • Kevin Tsujihara

    Kevin Tsujihara Out as Warner Bros. Chief Amid Sexual Impropriety Scandal

    Kevin Tsujihara has resigned his post as chairman-CEO of Warner Bros. following an investigation into his relationship with actress Charlotte Kirk and allegations he used his clout to help her find work at the studio. In a statement, Tsujihara said he realized “my continued leadership could be a distraction and an obstacle to the company’s [...]

  • The Village NBC

    TV Review: NBC's 'The Village'

    Even by the standards of network television, NBC’s “The Village” wears its inspiration boldly and openly: It’s “This Is Us,” except set among the disparate residents of an apartment building rather than the members of a family. “The Village” leans, hard, into the “This Is Us” formula of trauma-as-drama, deriving its tone from its characters [...]

  • TV Shows to Watch the Week

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of March 18, 2019: ‘The Act’ Premieres on Hulu

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, “The Act” premieres on Hulu and “The OA” returns for Season 2 on [...]

  • Fox News Logo

    Former DNC Chair Donna Brazile Joins Fox News as Contributor

    Donna Brazile, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, will join Fox News as a contributor, the cable-news network announced Monday, making a high-profile liberal commentator part of the offering from a network often seen to have close ties with conservative voters. Brazile, a veteran Democratic strategist, will offer political analysis across both Fox [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content