Is this the most beautiful film ever made? Watching Visconti’s 1963 saga of Sicilian aristocracy swamped by the mid-nineteenth century is like stepping into an old master, where the eye lingers rapturously over folds of velvet and the changing light. Like Lampedusa, the author of the novel, Visconti was born into the nobility, and one senses their empathy with the story’s ruminative Prince, who realises his class is doomed. The writing and Burt Lancaster’s majestic performance add ideological complexity and emotional resonance – orchestrated by fine support including Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale – but the film’s greatness lies in the way it makes the 1860s live. Visconti’s attention to detail is one element, but there’s something about the grace, squalor, tedium and elegance of the climactic ball sequence which goes beyond filmmaking into embodying a vanished way of life.