In Queen Cleopatra, the four-part docuseries on Netflix, several experts sit in front of the camera and narrate the story of a powerful Pharaoh who was revered and feared by many. These experts have so much knowledge regarding Cleopatra that they know all about her pillow talk (with Mark Antony) and psychology. They tell us what Cleopatra thought or must have been thinking during important events like Octavian's entry into Egypt. Was this queen a vixen or a strategist? One woman describes her as "a scholar, a scientist, and a linguist." That's probably why we first see Cleopatra (Adele James) in a library.
Cleopatra's life is definitely intriguing. After all, she had a Game of Thrones kind of environment. Cleopatra was 17 or 18 when her father, Ptolemy XII, died. Ptolemy adored Cleopatra, and in his will, he mentioned that she would rule the kingdom along with her brother Ptolemy XIII (Calum Balmforth). This meant that first, she would have to marry her sibling. Calm down. Apparently, this was pretty common at that time. Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII become co-rulers, but each desires a monopoly on the royal seat. And so, the flame of sibling rivalry is stoked, and the poison of untrustiness is injected into the familial bond.
Besides marrying your brother or sister, killing your sibling to attain power was also considered normal. Well, your family can indeed become your biggest enemy. But one thing that existed back then and even exists today in our society is misogyny. The Roman male elite was disgusted by Cleopatra, and Rome overall was averse to the concept of "women as rulers." In one of the episodes in the series, a soldier refuses to take orders from Cleopatra and asserts that he will only obey the instructions of the General. What did Cleopatra think of these sexist attitudes? She was irritated by it but didn't let it affect her mentally. She was a living, breathing Egyptian Goddess who exuded charm and brilliance.
The re-enactment scenes in this docuseries are better when compared to other Netflix documentaries. Yet, they merely manage to offer scant pleasures in the form of James' performance. She is the highlight of this series, as other actors overact and look amateurish. I wish Queen Cleopatra had gotten rid of talking heads, as they undermine the re-enactments by making them appear as something that just supports the expert's opinion (we hear things like, "Meeting of both mind and heart," but find it difficult to believe it as the characters come across as puppets following the lines spoken by the academics). I liked how the experts tried to bust certain myths (Cleopatra was neither smuggled in a mattress nor did she die due to a cobra bite). But given the option to choose between their knowledge and dramatic recreation, I would pick the latter because it's much more enjoyable.
But Queen Cleopatra keeps these two elements together because it wants to be a history lecture. It thinks the talking heads would stir excitement regarding the Egyptian queen within the audience. Well, the story itself is so strong that re-enactment would have been more than sufficient. And anyway, the historians deliver their lines so seriously that they threaten to take the fun out of the narrative. What's more, Jada Pinkett Smith's narration is portentous. Some points, like the one in which Cleopatra is referred to as temptress, are repeated twice, and the series suggests something sexual between Julius Caesar (John Partridge) and Arsinoe (Andira Crichlow), but it turns out to be a lazy device to hold the attention of the audience. Queen Cleopatra might not be as remarkable as the titular figure, but it's certainly not terrible either.
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