Angelina Jolie is the star of the next Cleopatra movie. But many people are curious about how well she will fit into the role. Cleopatra has typically been portrayed by incredibly beautiful and talented women. These standards are, of course, a reflection of the time in which the films were made. Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in the 1963 film seems much more fake and over-the-top than Leonor Varela’s 1999 portrayal, for example. That was the style back then. Likewise, standards of beauty have changed a lot in the last 50 years. So it makes sense that, once again, Cleopatra will be portrayed by a woman who is generally believed to be both beautiful and talented by her contemporaries. But initial reactions to the announcement seem to critique Jolie due to her age and appearance.
Angelina Jolie is currently 38 years old. This will make her among the oldest actresses to play Cleopatra in film. In contrast, Claudette Colbert was 31, Vivien Leigh was 32, Elizabeth Taylor was 31, and Leonor Varela was 27. I have read criticisms that Jolie is simply too old for the role. Many people forget that Cleopatra VII was 39 years old when she died. This means Jolie is still in Cleopatra’s age range. Even if the movie doesn’t get filmed in the next year, I think it’s rather silly to discount an actor on account of a few years in age rather than ability.
The other criticisms I encountered seem focused on appearances. Does Angelina Jolie look like Cleopatra? The short answer is no. Cleopatra had a hooked nose, smaller lips, and a softer bone structure. Modern portrayals of Cleopatra always run into the same dilemma: cast someone who looked like Cleopatra or cast someone who is widely regarded as beautiful? The issue is that Cleopatra was considered beautiful by her contemporaries. Although opinions differ, many modern historians (and the general populace) do not believe that Cleopatra was beautiful. That’s because standards of beauty have changed over the last 2,000 years. So the long answer is that, although Jolie doesn’t physically resemble Cleopatra, she portrays the equivalent physical qualities in today’s world.
All in all, I have very high hopes for this film. It will be based on the biography by Stacy Schiff (which made it to my Recommended Reading list). There have been many “historical” films of late which suppressed accuracy in the name of entertainment. I have always believed that Cleopatra’s life offers a unique story in which truth really is stranger than fiction. I hope that the team behind the film delivers a fantastic, and accurate, portrayal of Cleopatra VII and I have no doubt that Jolie will deliver a stellar performance.