A review of the 1963 classic film “The Leopard”

This is a film adaptation of a famous Italian novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The setting is Sicily in the 1860s and the story is the challenge to the power and lifestyle of the upper class presented by the ‘Risorgimento’ movement of Garibaldi and his followers. There are several versions of this classic film and I was delighted to be able to view a restored 188 minute version at the British Film Institute.

The work was directed by the great Luchino Visconti with Giuseppe Rotunno as his Director of Photography. It is a fabulous film that looks simply sumptuous with buildings, sets and costumes all looking glorious.The ball sequence – which occupies the last third of this three-hour film – was shot in 14 rooms with 250 extras. For such an epic, we need stars and there are three: American Burt Lancaster as Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, and the animal of the title, French Alain Delon as handsome Tancredi, the Prince’s nephew, and Italian beauty Claudia Cardinale as Angelica, Tancredi’s love. Lancaster and Delon are dubbed.

The dialogue is often political, even at times philosophical, and the most famous quote is the observation that “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” (that is, to keep power the aristocracy will have to make some accommodations). As the Prince puts it: “We were the leopards, the lions, those who take our place will be jackals and sheep, and the whole lot of us – leopards, lions, jackals and sheep – will continue to think ourselves the salt of the earth.”


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