Shakespeare Plays : Julius Caesar (1979)

Genres - Historical Film  |   Sub-Genres - Historical Epic, Tragedy  |   Run Time - 180 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom   |  
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Impressive acting by a British cast highlights this 1979 production of Julius Caesar. Although filmed as a stage play with limited use of props, the absence of fanfare and spectacle actually works in favor of the production because it centers all attention on the characters and the subtleties of their dialogue. The production is easy to follow because the actors generally enunciate their words clearly, pause at the right moments, and make facial expressions and gestures to help convey the meaning of the occasional difficult Shakespeare passage. Richard Pasco (Marcus Brutus) and David Collings (Caius Cassius) perform brilliantly as the leading conspirators who engineer history with convincing words and daggers. Pasco is a paradoxical Brutus -- idealistic and pragmatic, gentle and harsh. In keeping with Shakespeare's apparent intentions, Collings is a transparent Cassius -- jealous, petty, cynical. After Brutus, Cassius, and their co-conspirators murder Caesar and bathe their hands in his blood, they win the mob to their side. Yes, Brutus tells the people, he killed a friend, but the friend was a tyrant. And then comes the famous funeral oration ("Friends, Romans and countrymen") by Marcus Antonius that wins the mob back to Caesar and his supporters. It is a pivotal speech, a hinge upon which the believability of the rest of the play turns. Therefore, it must be entirely convincing; only an exceptional actor can deliver it. In this production, the task falls to Keith Michell, and he is superb. Pacing, gesturing, altering the stress and intonation of his speech, he molds the crowd into a single lump of opinion. In a moment, it becomes apparent that all is lost for Brutus and Cassius. The rest of the cast also performs capably in this production, including Charles Gray as Caesar and Elizabeth Spriggs as his wife Calpurnia. In any production of Julius Caesar, it's always fun to listen for its famous anachronism -- a bell tolling the hour of the day even though bell clocks had not been invented. This production has the bell clock -- and so much more. One suspects Shakespeare would like it.