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  • Michael Rickard II

“'Cleopatra': Classic Costume Cinema”

The costume film is another example of how a film’s characteristics define its genre. Graves and Engle list a costume film’s characteristics which can include literary adaptations, historical films, biographies, and the use of stars known for appearing in costume films. The 1963 costume film Cleopatra contains the characteristics of a historical recreation, a biography and the use of performers often seen in costume films.

Cleopatra can be categorized as a costume film due to both its historical and biographical characteristics. As Graves and Engle note, “There are countless films set in the past, but some filmmakers pay particular attention to rich visuals, including costumes” (56). Cleopatra contains fantastic recreations of battle scenes in Egypt, lavish ceremonies in Rome, and costumes that adorn the characters in these scenes. A biography can become a costume film “... when period detail and attire are particularly emphasized and examined” (Graves and Engle 57). The costumes and sets here help to give the audience the feeling they are watching Cleopatra’s life story as she woos Julius Caesar and Marcus Antony in her bid for independence and love.

The film’s cast provides another characteristic of the costume film, stars normally associated with costume films. Rex Harrison appeared in costume films such as and Richard Burton appeared in and and Elizabeth Taylor was no stranger to costume films, with roles in and Harrison, Burton, and Taylor’s association with costume films was another characteristic contributing to classification in the costume genre.

With its lavish sets and elaborate costumes, Cleopatra recreates the history of ancient Rome, examining the life of Cleopatra and the men around her. This and the film’s cast of stars associated with costume films make it an example of the costume film.

Work Cited

Graves, Mark and F. Bruce Engle. Blockbusters: A Reference Guide to Film Genres. Greenwood,


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