Antony and Cleopatra has not been particularly successful on film or television. The film image most likely to come to mind in association with the story is of Cecil B. de Mille’s film, or Elizabeth Taylor in Joseph Mankiewicz’s Hollywood epic Cleopatra, an extravaganza that inspired Carry On Cleo, one of the series of low-budget, British seasidepostcard-style comedies. None of these have much relationship to Shakespeare. The fact that more film directors have not considered making a large-cast epic of the Shakespeare play itself suggests, perhaps, that the kinds of public intimacies the play offers do not lend themselves to a film vocabulary. As Richard David has suggested, ‘to switch to and fro between one and another of the elements in a crowded scene, destroys a characteristic Shakespearean effect, which derives from the simultaneous contemplation of opposing forces and their interactions’ (David, in Bulman and Coursen, Shakespeare on Television, pp. 139–40). His critique is of the limitations of television Shakespeare, but a similar point could be made about film. Though film clearly facilitates crowd scenes in a way the small screen does not, it deals with tensions and confrontations in the presence of a large groups by cutting from figure to figure, so that the sense of a battle for theatrical status and space is lost.
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