It’s been 2,060 years and Caesar is still dead! But we celebrate him on film every so often and in honor of today’s Ides of March, DMG Entertainment offers up some of the best on-screen versions of Rome’s baddest strongman – Gaius Julius Caesar.
In addition to having a salad and a casino named after him, Caesar has been ripe fodder for writers since pretty much the 16th of March 44 BCE – from Plutarch to Shakespeare to Trumbo. And why not? It has everything – love, lust, political scheming, war, power, glory and betrayal, it is a universal tale played out over the backdrop of history.
So throw on your favorite bedsheet cum toga, sip some vino and enjoy the various onscreen incarnations of Julius Caesar!
LOUIS CALHEM – JULIUS CAESAR (1953)
Not the first film adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, but this version is one of the best and Calhem’s Caesar was widely regarded at the time. It also features a non-mumbling Marlon Brando as Marc Antony with James Mason and John Gielgud. The film won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction (Cedric Gibbons, Edward Carfagno, Edwin B. Willis, Hugh Hunt), and was nominated for the Best Actor in a Leading Role (Marlon Brando), Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture and Best Picture.
JOHN GIELGUD – JULIUS CAESAR (1970)
British independent film adaptation of William Shakespeare‘s play, directed by Stuart Burge from a screenplay by Robert Furnival gave Gielgud a chance at the title role. The film stars Charlton Heston as Mark Antony, Jason Robards playing Brutus. It is the first film version of the play made in colour. Robert Vaughn, who plays Casca, and Richard Chamberlain, who plays Octavius, are the only Americans in the film other than Robards and Heston.
REX HARRISON – CLEOPATRA (1963)
Told from Cleopatra and Marc Antony’s POV, this grand Hollywood epic was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and shot in the 70 mm Todd-AO format. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall, and Martin Landau. CLEOPATRA achieved notoriety during its production for its massive cost overruns and production troubles, which included changes in director and cast, a change of filming locale, sets that had to be constructed twice, lack of a firm shooting script, and personal scandal around its co-stars. It was the most expensive film ever made up to that point and almost bankrupted 20th Century-Fox. It was also the highest grossing film of 1963, earning US$26 million ($57.7 million total; equivalent to $445.98 million in 2016), yet made a loss due to its production and marketing costs of $44 million (equivalent to $340.09 million in 2016), making it the only film ever to be the highest grossing film of the year and still run at a loss.
CIARAN HINDS – ROME (TV-2005)
Caesar found arguably his best iterations on the small screen in HBO’s epic historical drama ROME. Filmed on location across Italy and employing a host a Italian (Roman) actors as well as some of Britain’s finest, ROME set the bar for period dramas in terms of action, storytelling and authenticity. Ciaran Hinds’ portrayal of Julius Caesar as he steps from the battlefields of Gaul to the even more dangerous floor of the Roman Senate is probably the most accurate, and for many is the definitive Caesar – strong, determined and visionary, yet vulnerable and all-too human at the same time.
KARL URBAN – XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS (TV-1995)
While maybe not the grandest and most intellectual show ever made, XENA was a huge hit in the 90s as she made studio bosses realize that a tough, female hero could carry a series. Lots of young stars got their starts on XENA including a baby-faced Karl Urban who repeatedly showed up as Julius Caesar. As a younger Caesar than most version, Urban was cool and cruel and a fitting foil to the warrior princess.