Cleopatra (1963) directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and based on a book by Carlo Mario Franzero is a spectacle in virtually every sense of the word. The greatest stars of the era were hired to play the roles of these immortal historical figures — Elizabeth Taylor was Cleopatra, Richard Burton as Marc Antony, and Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar. "It was budgeted at $2 million and eventually cost (up to) $44 million to produce -- close to $300 million in today's dollars." (Null 2006, p. 1) and the original cut of the film was nearly six hours long. The three-hour cut released to the public is still an epic. Of course, it is an epic that has little to do with our understanding of Egyptian history or even the personalities, as we know them, of the major historical figures depicted in the film.
Oddly, director Mankiewicz claimed to be interested in story. According to Time Magazine (1963): "Story, [the director] insisted, must dominate spectacle, and with that in mind he constructed not one drama but two—both broadly true to Plutarch, each about two hours long." (p. 1) But drama is not the same of history. Despite the political entanglements, war, and the clash between Roman and Egyptian civilizations, Cleopatra is an essence two love stories: Caesar and Cleopatra dominate Part I of the film, and after the Roman ruler's assassination, the story of Antony and Cleopatra is told in Part II of the film, which ends with Cleopatra's suicide.
As a film experience, however, neither story is ultimately all that interesting because despite the director's goal, the spectacle wins out. Commenting on the film with the hindsight of history on the occasion of the film's release on DVD, Jardine (2001) notes:
To rebuild floundering movie ticket sales that had been lost – the studios figured – to competition from television, Mankiewicz was commissioned to produce a widescreen epic of mammoth proportions, rife with extravagant scenes....