Fans who appreciate the elegance, prestige and extravagance of Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1963 film Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, are in for a shock. The next screen version of Cleopatra, as directed by Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Arrival), will be a lot more salacious.In other words, less Pride and Prejudice, more Game of Thrones.
"Dirty, bloody, lots of people swearing and having sex and all of that other stuff," screenwriter David Scarpa (All the Money in the World) told The Hollywood Reporter on December 22. "Instead of doing the prestige picture—the three-hour, lots of pageantry, people with fans and English accents and all that stuff—[we] treat it as a lean, mean two-hour political thriller."
Sorry, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton: Your accents are too posh and your costumes too fussy (not to mention excessive) for today's filmgoer.
Scarpa spoke of another big change in a second interview with Collider—namely, giving the story a feminist update. "There have been so many narratives of Cleopatra that have been framed through the eyes of men, and specifically Roman men," Scarpa said. "The idea was we’re gonna approach it through her point of view." (Interesting: Scarpa and Villeneuve are men, no?)
There is no doubt that Cleopatra will make for a juicy story: The powerful Egyptian queen, Cleopatra VII Philopator, was the last ruler to actively reign (69BC to 30BC) before Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire. One contemporary described her as "brilliant to look upon and to listen to, with the power to subjugate everyone." In her masterful book, Cleopatra: A Life," the female author Stacy Schiff rescued Cleopatra from male-created mythology (Shakespeare included), revealing her to be a lot more than the seducer of her Roman lovers, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony (she had children with both of them); she was a shrewd and highly educated strategist and an ingenious negotiator in her own right. Married twice, she waged a civil war against the first husband, and poisoned the second. As Schiff notes, "incest and assassination were family specialties." She died at 39; it's unclear whether she was murdered or committed suicide, famously with an asp.
Deadline reported in September that the film will be based on Schiff's best-seller, which is good news. As for Villeneuve, Scarpa said he has yet to speak to his vision for the film. "I have little knowledge into what his point of view on the movie is, and I’m sure he’s got one," Scarpa told Collider. "But I’m interested to see what happens."
Sony is behind the new film, with Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin producing. The studio has been working on a Cleopatra project for years, speaking to various directors, including Paul Greengrass and James Cameron. Pascal and Rudin made news following an infamous 2015 hack of Sony, in which they reacted to emails from Angelina Jolie, in which she expressed interest in playing Celopatra. Among the leaked exchanges, Rudin, who referred to Jolie as "childish, irresponsible and willful," said, "[T]he last thing anybody needs is to make a giant bomb with her that any fool could see coming."
No casting details have been revealed at this point. But based on Rudin's emails, it's unlikely Jolie will star, unless groveling occurs.
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