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Series: The Cleopatras
is an eight-part historical miniseries produced by The BBC
in 1983 and written by Philip Mackie (whose previous historical mini-series writing credits included The Caesars
in 1968). The series opens up with one of the Cleopatras (the one most familiar to us—the one who later fell in love with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony) being told the stories of all of the other Cleopatras in her family (her mothers, aunts, grandmothers and great-grandmothers) via a history lesson. After the histories of all of the past Cleopatras have been explored, the story continues to detail the life of the last of the Cleopatras, who committed suicide via asp bite after losing the Battle of Actium.
The series was lavishly mounted and there were high hopes that it would become the I, Claudius
of the 1980s. Critical reception however, was quite mixed. This might have been due to the wry "horror-comic" tone of the series, when another approach might have suited the material better. Or it might have had something to do with the surreal production design and effects, which made copious use of the "video toaster". Or it might have had something to do with the rather anachronistic progressive rock-esque soundtrack. Whatever the reason, the series vanished into the annals of television and to this day still hasn't had a proper DVD release, although it has been uploaded to YouTube
. You can catch the first episode here
This series provides examples of:
- Affably Evil: Fluter just wants to be a nice guy, be a good ruler and play his flute. Of course, he'll cold-bloodedly off any family members who cross him, but that's pretty par for the course for an Egyptian ruler.
- The Alcoholic: Pot Belly and Alexander are epic drinkers. Although Mark Antony could probably drink them both under the table.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Part of the reason why Cleopatra III sticks to her husband (and uncle) Pot Belly until his natural death, despite little things like his drunkenly admitting to murdering her brother Eupator while seducing her (or her seducing him) and raping her immediately afterwards when she understandably changes her mind and attempts to push him off. Pot Belly is an unapologetic tyrant who admits openly his devious nature, yet he is notably the only Ptolemy ruler in the series whose consort never attempts to stab him in the back to gain the throne for herself.
- Asshole Victim: A great many of the family members who get bumped off during the series are these. Even the children (although that's probably only because they've been spoiled into insufferability thanks to their rank).
- The Atoner: Pharaoh Pot Belly decides to appear to become one of these later in his reign. This isn't because he's generally sorry for the things he's done. He just wants to repair his 0% Approval Rating which came about thanks to his previous "massacre people randomly to keep them in line" method of ruling.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Happens so often in this series, it actually starts to become mundane. Egypt goes through a lot of Ptolemys and Cleopatras in the first six episodes, and every one of them gets at least one coronation scene (often simply comprising a shot of them sitting on their thrones in full regalia).
- Badass Boast: Old Chickpea, who was not noted for his strong rule until then, suddenly proclaims one to the stupor of his daughter and the rest of the audience after learning that Thebes is in revolt to depose the whole Ptolemaic bloodline. He orders the city razed to the ground and its citizens massacred to a man, "for the KING is a GOD, and a MIGHTYYYY GOD! We have the BLOOD of RA, the GRRRREAT SUN-GOD, in our VEEEEEINS!!!"
- Brother-Sister Incest: A hallmark of the Egyptian Royal Family. The extended flashback that takes up the first five episodes opens with news of the death of Ptolemy VI Philometor, father of Cleopatra III and husband and brother of Cleopatra II. The widowed queen proceeds to marry her other brother, Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, AKA Pot Belly. And that's just for starters.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Cleopatra Selene and Cleopatra Tryphaena suffer this. One gets her hands chopped off while clinging to an altar for protection and the other gets her teeth ripped out before enduring a slow, painful execution.
- Driven to Suicide: Fluter's brother (who had his kingdom stolen from him by the Romans) decided to put all of his treasure into three boats and sink them in order to keep the Romans from getting their hands on them. He originally planned to be on one of the boats as it sank, but opted for a quicker, easier death by poison.
- Easily Forgiven: Forgive an uncle who raped your daughter, murdered one of your brothers and beheaded your son? If doing so means you get to remain Queen of Egypt, sure!
- Embarrassing Nickname: Pot Belly and Chickpea. Also, the guy with bad body odor who wanted to marry one of the Cleopatras (and who was probably suffering from trimethylaminuria) was called "Fish Peddler" thanks to his smell.
- For the Evulz: Pot Belly often jerked around members of his own family, purely for his own amusement.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Fluter starts off as a seemingly nice, lightheaded and innocent fellow, having just been brought to the throne by happenstance because he and his siblings were the sole bastards with the closest Ptolemy blood found nearby in Alexandria. However, years of having Egypt's resources driven into the ground to bring enough gold to buy the Romans so that they will legitimise his claim to the throne by Senate decree, then seeing his brother being Driven to Suicide because a loophole in said decree ended with him losing Cyprus to the same Romans he had just bribed, then being deposed by the mob, led by his own sister/wife and his eldest daughter, because said loss of Cyprus made him look incompetent and weak, have turned him rather sour about politics. Cue the look in his eyes when he finally returns to the throne of Egypt years later after having beaten his usurper daughter's army with the Roman legions; his first order is to have said eldest daughter dragged off the throne and executed on the spot.
- Ice Queen: Berenike attempts to remain one when she succeeds her father Chickpea, even when finding herself forced to marry his cousin, the sole surviving legitimate Ptolemy, by the Romans. It didn't last long. (Nineteen days to be exact.)
- Infant Immortality: Averted. This was Truth in Television, sadly.
- Kavorka Man: Pot Belly is a fat and ugly man, which is an open source of derision between his family and himself. Yet it doesn't stop him from finding a lot of comfort in women, be they Greek mistresses, dancing girls, his sister, his niece...
- King on His Deathbed: Pot Belly, Chickpea, and Fluter all get deathbed scenes, during which their children and prospective heirs mutter under their breaths that they wish the old man would hurry up and die.
- Meaningful Name: Averted in universe. Chickpea was given his nickname precisely because it had no meaning (and was most likely bestowed on him by his father just to annoy him).
- Offing the Offspring: Happened a lot, as did Offing the Siblings, Patricide, etc. The Egyptian royal family was full of Antagonistic Offspring and Evil Matriarchs. If you were an Egyptian ruler and weren't sleeping with a close relative, you were probably trying to kill him. It was just in the nature of how power was acquired back in those days.
- One Steve Limit: Averted. Several members of the family throughout several generations share the same names (which is why many family members are identified by second names or nicknames). In particular, the kings are all called Ptolemy, and the queens are almost all called Cleopatra (the series is called The Cleopatras, after all).
- Royally Screwed Up: Of course! By the time the series begins, the Ptolemaic dynasty have already been inbreeding for generations, resulting in a wide array of unstable, bloodthirsty, and downright insane rulers who think nothing of raping or murdering each other for political gain.
- Seeking Sanctuary: Several characters try to seek sanctuary from their murderous relatives in temples, but this never, ever works. One wonders why they keep bothering to try it.
- Too Dumb to Live: Ptolemy XI Alexander II's idea of a pleasant rape when finding himself refused by his newlywed wife and co-ruler - very popular Queen Berenike - would have made him a strong contender for a Darwin Award. The mob of Alexandria agreed with that assessment and gladly obliged, extinguishing the sole undeniably legitimate Ptolemaic bloodline at a stroke.
- Torches and Pitchforks: Several rulers are driven out of Alexandria or worse by angry mobs. Pot Belly is forced to flee when the Alexandrians take exception to his burning down a school without letting the people inside get out first, while Ptolemy XI Alexander II is literally torn to pieces after raping and murdering his much more popular queen on their wedding night.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Pot Belly and Cleopatra III. Oddly enough, in a sea of backstabbing family politics, it is the only royal couple that lasts to the end.
- We Have Reserves: Fluter orders the execution of his traitorous daughter. When someone expresses shock at him offing his child, he calmly explains that he has several more, as if the number of expendable heirs at his disposal were the only issue...
- Whole Episode Flashback: Episodes 1-5 are flashbacks covering nearly a hundred years of the Ptolemaic dynasty, starting with the death of Ptolemy Philometor in battle in Syria, as told to the latest Cleopatra by her teacher Theodotus. It is not until Episode 6 that the flashbacks end and the story of Cleopatra's romances with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony begins.