Filming Shakespeare isn’t particularly easy, and keeping it interesting for a majority of the viewing audience is even more difficult. This 1970 version, highlighted by an all star cast, faithfully retells Shakespeare’s account of events surrounding the assassination of Caesar in 44 B.C.
After defeating the sons of Pompey, Julius Caesar (John Gielgud) returns to Rome so popular, he is declared all powerful, and a dictator for all time. This doesn’t go over well with Cassius (Richard Johnson) who, outraged by Caesar’s new status as a deity, begins to plot Caesar’s assassination for what he believes is the good of Rome. To do the job, he enlists Caesar’s friend, the honorable Brutus (Jason Robards), and fellow senators Casca (Robert Vaughn) and Cimber (Michael Gough), among others.
Caesar is warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March,” and his wife, Calpurnia (Jill Bennett), is troubled by a dream predicting his assassination. Despite this, Caesar goes to the Senate, where he is brutally stabbed to death. Chaos ensues, with both Brutus and Cassius making the case to the roman people that their plot was just. Meanwhile, Marc Antony (Charlton Heston), Caesar’s loyal right hand man, quietly builds his case against the conspirators, cautiously aligning himself with Octavius (Richard Chamberlain) for a run at control of the entire Roman Empire.
If executed well, Shakespeare on screen can be truly extraordinary unfortunately, while most of this all-star cast does an admirable job, Jason Robards as Brutus is just deplorable. A usually dependable actor, Robards seems lost here, staring vacantly into the camera and reciting his lines as if he’s reading them off cue cards. He gives the words no emphasis and shows absolutely no emotion.
Robards’ flat performance is a shame, not just because his co-stars largely deliver fine performances, but director Stuart Burge does an admirable job of recreating Imperial Rome; opening up the film with some particularly impressive shots that establishes a real sense of scope. And let’s face it; you can’t do much better than John Gielgud in the title role. As he always does, Charlton Heston brings his own masculine, avuncular style to the role of Marc Antony, which works well here, creating a kind of ‘internal’ struggle between his character and Gielgud’s. Though their roles are rather small, both Richard Johnson as Cassius, and Diana Rigg as Portia make the most of their screen time.
With the regrettable exception of Jason Robards, this is a solid version of Shakespeare’s tragedy. With far more wonderful performances than bad, fans of The Bard would be advised to give this film a look.
Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Olive Films transfer is solid. Colors are decent, if not robust. Flesh tones look natural, though they look slightly purple in a few scenes. Close-ups reveal a nice level of detail, though mid-range and long shots look a bit on the soft side. Olive Films apparent lack of digital tweaking has given a rather grainy, filmic look to the whole proceeding.
Julius Caesar features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix that serves the film very well. Dialogue sounds clear and precise, while the underscore by Michael J. Lewis has been nicely woven into the minimal effects that make up the soundtrack.
No subtitles are available.