Antony and Cleopatra (1981) TV Movie Review (BBC)

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

*Minor Spoilers Ahead!*

Antony and Cleopatra are two of the most well-known tragic lovers in history. Cleopatra herself remains one of the most iconic people who has ever lived, and her love affairs with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony arguably changed the course of world history. Because William Shakespeare knew how to write dramatic plays that reveal the reality of love, it is no surprise that he would write Antony and Cleopatra.

A Toast!

This is yet again another fabulous adaptation of a Shakespearean classic from the BBC. This TV movie honors the legacy of the original play while also dramatizing the epic real-life love affair that shook the ancient world. All of the players vividly bring Shakespeare’s characters to life while respecting the historical figures that they portray. It is possible to say that Colin Blakely and Jane Lapotaire in the title roles delivered better performances than Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor when they (in)famously played those roles in the 1963 historical epic. Rex Harrison stole the show for that particular film, though, which was why he was the only one from the cast to receive an Oscar nomination for his role as Julius Caesar. The paparazzi went wild when the real-life love affair between Taylor and Burton shook the entertainment world during the psychedelic 1960s. Shakespeare’s play (and this TV movie) are obviously not the same as the scandalous “Best Picture” nominee, but at least this BBC production respects the original source material as to how William Shakespeare wanted to portray the historical star-crossed lovers.

Beer Two

When it comes to comparing the two films, though, the BBC version is not that lavish. This is partially because theaters that held performances of the play during the Elizabethan era did not have access to the set designs and costumes that earned the 1963 cinematic feature Academy Awards for its art direction and costume design. People who know me well know that I am a HUGE Elizabeth Taylor fan, and that Cleopatra (1963) is one of my favorite movies, so this “criticism” is really just an example of my own personal bias. (I could never resist period dramas that look visually stunning.) The “craft categories” (production design, cinematography, and costume design), are also my three favorite categories from the Oscars.

*I love Cleopatra (1963), which is why that was my first film review for MovieBoozer, but my favorite movie of all time is, and always will be, Annie Hall (1977).*


Interestingly, theater patrons did not like Shakespeare’s play during his lifetime partially because of the historical events that had happened simultaneously. Such events that made this play not well-received included the imprisonment of Mary, Queen of Scots, the publication of the King James version of the Bible, and of course, the Reformation. Nevertheless, this is still a great play and TV production of a Shakespearean classic that blends history with tragedy to create a compelling work of dramatic art.

Antony and Cleopatra (TV Movie 1981 BBC) Bonus Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every romantic and passionate moment

Drink a Shot: every time the language sounds poetic and rhetorical

And Beware of Possibly Poisonous Drinks: every time the play/film mentions snakes, especially asps

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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