The Cleopatras

thecleosI have a secret pleasure.  It was produced in England, and this dramatic presentation of the rule of the Ptolmeys is really, really bad.

However, have you ever seen something that is so bad, it turns out to be lots of fun to watch?    This show has lots and lots of ‘chewing the scenery.’  Actors are emoting.  Oh, how they  emote.  The entire show is obviously filmed on a sound stage, and when something was supposed to take place in a palace of cold hard marble, once in a while, you can hear the wood creak under a footstep.    Take my word from a guy that has stepped on more than a few stages himself, wood creaks and squeaks occasionally when you walk on it.

Also if you like seeing lots and lots of half-naked women, this is the show for you.

The cinematography is dated.  There are cuts, wipes and dissolves that video teachers warn their students against, and probably were used because at the time the director thought these techniques were new and were really ‘cool. man.’  Think 70s video production 101.

Most of the Ptolemy’s seem to be stupid.  All except one Pharoah named Potbelly, who sports the requirements for the name and has the political acumen that would make Machiavelli proud.  Unfortunately he drinks a little too much and gets his cumuppance  in the end, however he is one of the most entertaining characters in the series.   The part was played by a young Richard Griffiths, well know for his depiction of Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter films.  Griffiths performance makes the show worth watching.     

The story begins with young Cleopatra VII getting a history lesson from her tutor.  We cut back and forth between lectures in the present to her ancestors in the past.  “Am I beautiful?” She asks her tutor to see if he is a flatterer.  His answer is strange to say the least, “Of all the women that I have ever seen…”   Yea, yea, yea…he’s a flatterer.

The actress is beautiful.  Her name is Michelle Newell.  The jury is still out whether the real Cleopatra was beautiful though.

One of the Cleopatras is Ms. Lemon of the Inspector Poroit series on public television.   Go Ms. Lemon, va va voom.

I sometimes wonder if the writer had more respect for the pharaohs, that maybe, just maybe, the story would have had been more interesting.  The show has a tendency to be presented like a high school production.

The history of the Ptolomys deserve better.  Think about it.  Ptolemy was an Alexandrian general, taking charge of a country that had a history going back thousands of years.  Imagine that story of the first Ptolmey, who tried to control a country and have it accept his rule  His family did a metamorphosis – they walked in two worlds (Macedonian and Egyptian).  Think what that must have been like, and what itwould have entailed.   Soter stepped into the Pharonic line and took charge of a people that did not want him.  The “Greek speakers” and the “belt wearers” were a distinct people from the Egyptians.  The Ptolemys played a propaganda game for generations, and at the same time lived in a system of apartheid.   As for ruling, besides that horrible ‘family relations’ brother against brother, sister against Father, etc, etc, in the stuggle for the throne, and raising an Army here and there against their relatives, they did a pretty good job of ruling a country.  Of course they had to suffer Roman domination toward the end of the rule.  How do you think Cleopatra VII must have felt to know that she was the end of her line?  How do think Czar Nicholas the II must have felt?

I admit writing such a story would be a daunting task.  I can hear my detractors saying, “You just try to write a history of a royal family of Macedonian that ruled a country for 300 years.”

OK, I will!

You want to know how I would have started the series?  With the hijacking of Alexander’s body as it was being transported back to Athens.    Now, there is the start of great television.  It seems the first Ptolmey Soter knew that the city that housed the body of the great Alexander would be a major attraction in the ancient world.


The great funeral cart moves slowly down the road.  The wheels are taller than two men standing on top of each others shoulders.  As it passes through the village, the people are on their knees offering up prayers.  It is protected by 20 hoplites sent from Athens.  On a sunny day, Alexander’s body can be seen reclining in his amber coffin.  A ship has been sent to a port ten miles down the road.  They have to move quickly lest the sun turns the holy body to organic sludge.  Sixty oxen are tied to the front of the funeral cart, they bellow and snort as drivers whip their filthy hindquarters.  A beach is to the right, a hill on the left.    The sun is setting, and those on the road do not see the ship beached on the white sand.    

Suddenly there is a high-pitched whistle, and  Macedonian hoplites in black armor rise up from the beach and storm the funeral cart.  They kill the slaves in an short battle with the guards.   

Run credits:

The Cleopatras    

A movie that is more worth the time.  It is called THE LAND OF THE PHAROAH starring Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins (1955).  The whole movie is worth it especially when you see the look on Joan's face when she realizes she will be staying at the funeral a little bit longer than planned.

A movie that is worth your time. It is called THE LAND OF THE PHAROAH starring Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins (1955). The whole movie is worth it especially when you see the look on Joan’s face when she realizes she will be staying at the funeral a little bit longer than planned.


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