It sounded the perfect set-up for a film buff/museum nut: the screening, earlier this evening, of the 1946 British film ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ starring Claude Rains and Vivien Leigh, presented in the surroundings of The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Advertised as a free event, I only just managed to acquire a ticket by the skin of my teeth. When booking, the Eventbrite website showed that only 3 tickets were available, but then my order crashed and when I refreshed the screen to start the process again it had dropped to just 1! Needless to say, I went on to successfully snap up that final place without any further mishap.
The museum itself is situated in an unassuming building located in Malet Place, a quiet little road not far from the main University College London premises in Malet Street. Once inside, up a small flight of stairs into the main reception and then beyond, it was relatively small, being basically made up of 2 or 3 gallery style rooms. The rooms were lined with glass display cabinets, each crammed with numerous Egyptian artefacts. The area designated for the screening was towards one end of the first main room entered. 6 rows of chairs had been laid out, with more scattered behind in various places. Glass display cabinets lined either side of the audience, which assisted in creating an extra element of atmosphere. When everyone was in, there were probably around 45-50 attendees occupying the available space. In the middle of the seating area was a small table, atop which was a compact looking laptop and a projector, all set up and ready to play the DVD of the film onto a pop-up screen placed at the far end of the gallery.
Modest little plastic cups of wine and soft drinks were laid out on a long table near the entrance for audience members to help themselves to. There was only a short amount of time, as everyone else slowly filtered in, to enjoy the hospitality and browse some of the museum collection, with most people seating themselves quite early on. When all ticket holders had arrived and settled into place, the evening could begin proper (albeit around 10-15 minutes later than advertised). We were initially introduced to a smartly dressed gentleman by the name of John J Johnston, who was described as an 'Egyptologist and film historian'. Mister Johnston then delivered a 20 minute or so talk on the background to the film, including interesting anecdotes about the cast and director and some insight into its writing and shooting. The lights were thereafter brought down and the film began.
The screenplay was written by George Bernard Shaw (or just plain Bernard Shaw, as per the actual film credits and Shaw’s own personal preference), adapted from his original stage play. And, despite a number of larger set pieces that appeared throughout, that was how the overall feel of the film came across, i.e. very stage-performance oriented. Personally, I found the acting style rather hammy and many of the lines of dialogue raised howls of laughter from the various audience members. In truth, the 20 minute talk beforehand by John J Johnston was more absorbing than what came afterwards, but it was nonetheless an interesting piece of film history.