During the 1950s and 1960s Hollywood couldn’t get enough of big budget historical epics. The likes of Spartacus, Cleopatra, Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments proved incredibly popular as well as being critical acclaimed. Whilst Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar is slightly different owing to its Shakespearean heritage, it still contains all the elements you’d expect from a blockbuster, but with much more dialogue.
Julius Caesar (Louis Calhern) returns to Rome, triumphant from a military victory. The citizens treat him like a god but several senators are concerned that he’s abusing his power. Cassius (John Gielgud) persuades Brutus (James Mason) to take part in a plot to kill the emperor. On hearing Mark Anthony (Marlon Brando) is planning to offer Caesar the crown of Rome, the conspiracy prepares to act. Caesar should beware the Ides of March.
Mankiewicz’s Julius Caesar owes a large debt to the stage, with several of the main cast coming from theatrical Shakespearean backgrounds. However, it’s actually Brando who really shines. His performance is a perfect mix of film star charisma and austere thespian. As you’d expect from a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer epic, it has the size and scale to match the budget. The weak link is perhaps Mason, who at times sounds like he’s reading directly from a script. However, the ensemble more than make up for it. Julius Caesar is a wordy historical blockbuster with a dramatic flourish. A worthy adaptation of one of The Bard’s more grounded works.
Julius Caesar is released on Blu-ray by Screenbound Pictures on 20 May.