Carry On Cleo

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

1 January

Julian calendar takes effect, 45BC

On this day in 45BC, or 708AUC (Ab Urbis Conditae – since the founding of the city) as it was known at the time, the Julian calendar was first put into effect. It had been introduced the year before by Julius Caesar, and replaced the Calendar of Numa (which had earlier replaced the Calendar of Romulus). The Julian calendar consisted of 365 days divided into 12 months with a leap year every four years. This means that a single year averages out at 365.25 days. The solar year is in fact a few minutes shorter. Because of this difference the Julian calendar gains three days every 400 years – so the coincidence of the longest day and midsummer on the calendar starts to slip. The Gregorian reform of 1582 corrects this slight but eventually problematic difference in the calendar and solar year by making a correction of 0.002% to the length of the year. It does this by making century years (100, 200 etc) normal years rather than the leap years they should be (because they’re divisible by 4) except when the century year is divisible by 400. Which is why the year 2100 will not be a leap year. Under the Julian calendar it would have been. Apart from this tweak in 1582, we’re still using the calendar that Julius Caesar would recognise as his.

Carry On Cleo (1964, dir: Gerald Thomas)

The Carry On series of 30-odd films made between 1958 and 78 had their highs and lows but Carry On Cleo is one of the best. The reason are various, but the fact that Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey, Joan Sims – key members of the loose Carry On team – all had key roles is obviously a plus. So was the fact that the production was able to use the sets and props that had been built for the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton Cleopatra, before that film upped sticks and switched locations to Italy, where new sets were built – Sid James’s Mark Antony is actually wearing the costume Richard Burton wore as Mark Antony. Plus there was the input of Dennis Norden and Frank Muir, who wrote the single funniest line from any Carry On film, when Julius Caesar is being pursued by an angry mob and shouts “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me.” It helps too that Kenneth Williams is speaking the line, rolling his eyes and flaring his nostrils as the un-noblest Roman of them all. Apart from that one line, the rest of the script was by Talbot Rothwell, and he seems to have been inspired by the Norden/Muir contribution. Rothwell was at his best as a parodist (Carry On Cowboy, Screaming and Spying were also above average Carry Ons) but you wouldn’t ever lay the charge of intellectualism at his door. His writing is quick and fun, full of terrible puns and tortured wordplay and the cast attack it with energy, particularly Kenneth Williams (as Caesar) who in this film is probably as good as he’d ever be. The plot revolves around Mark Antony falling for Cleo (Amanda Barrie) and realising he’s going to have to kill Caesar if he is going to make her his. Meanwhile, two backward, skin-clad Britons, Hengist (Kenneth Connor) and Horsa (Jim Dale), are stirred into the mix to give the illusion of depth, and to give the plotlines involving the guys in togas a helping hand when Rothwell runs out of inspiration. The entire intention is to poke fun at sword and sandal epics of the time, which were, let’s face it, getting tired. Or as a title card after the opening credits has it: “Whilst the characters and events in this story are based on actual characters and events, certain liberties have been taken with Cleopatra.”

Why Watch?

  • A fine intro to the series
  • Kenneth Williams’s best Carry On performance
  • The most lush and lustrous entry in the series, thanks to the Cleopatra sets
  • Amanda Barrie as a dizzy bewildered Cleo

Carry On Cleo – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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