The Cleopatras

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The Cleopatras
The Cleopatras 1983 TV series title.jpeg
Genre Historical Drama
Written by Philip Mackie
Directed by John Frankau
Starring Michelle Newell
Graham Crowden
Richard Griffiths
Robert Hardy
Elizabeth Shepherd
Theme music composer Nick Bicat
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 8
Producer(s) Guy Slater
Running time 50 min
Original channel BBC2
Original run January 19, 1983 (1983-01-19) – March 9, 1983 (1983-03-09)

The Cleopatras was a 1983 BBC Television eight part historical drama serial. Written by Philip Mackie, it is set in Ancient Egypt during the latter part of the Ptolemaic Dynasty with an emphasis on the Cleopatras. Intended to be the I, Claudius of the 1980s, The Cleopatras met with a decidedly mixed critical reaction.[1] It was regarded and portrayed as a gaudy farce.[2]

The series was generally poorly received despite the impressive cast. The series also managed to produce a number of complaints due to the instances of nudity in the series.[3]

The Cleopatras was novelised by Mackie in 1983 as a tie in with the series.

The title and incidental music was written and composed by Nick Bicat.[4] In January 1983 a 7" vinyl was released to tie in with the original broadcast.[5]

Although the show has never been rebroadcast, clips from The Cleopatras were featured in a 2015 BBC documentary about how Cleopatra VII has been portrayed and presented in film and on television. [6]


145 BC[edit]

Alexandria, 145 BC. Upon the death in battle of her husband and brother King Ptolemy VI, Queen Cleopatra II has to marry her younger brother, PotBelly, to remain on the throne. PotBelly secretly orders the murder of his nephew and heir, Eupator, the son of his wife and their brother, the late King, then impregnates his new wife with a new child (it turns out to be a boy, whom they call Memphites), and then seduces and rapes Eupator's sister, his step-daughter and niece Cleopatra III, his wife's own daughter, who becomes pregnant by him, so he decides to divorce her mother and marries her instead. They rule as an uneasy triumvirate. PotBelly and Cleopatra III are driven out of Egypt by the mob. PotBelly takes revenge on his sister Cleopatra II by murdering their only son Memphites, his sister's only male child and heir. [7]

128 BC[edit]

PotBelly and Cleopatra III re-invade Egypt, banishing Cleopatra II to Syria, where her daughter Cleopatra Thea is queen consort, but is constantly displeased with the reign of her incompetent husband, King Demetrius. Cleopatra seeks the aid of Demetrius in regaining her throne, but when he fails, his wife orders his slaughter in a temple where he has sought refuge. Her intention is to proclaim herself queen regnant, and her favourite younger son Grypus a puppet co-ruler, but she is forestalled by her elder son Seleucus, who proclaims himself king instead, allowing her to be only the Queen Mother of Syria. She tries to make a puppet ruler of him instead, but when he resists her influence she poisons him at the dinner table. After his death, Grypus finally becomes King of Syria, but with time comes to dislike his mother's increasing desire for power and influence over him.

Meanwhile PotBelly announces a sudden change of character - henceforth he is to be known as PotBelly the Benign. He makes up with his sister Cleopatra and allows her to return to Egypt from Syria and be a queen once more, much to the dislike of his wife and co-ruler, Queen Cleopatra III, who still sees her mother as a rival. Cleopatra III and PotBelly's eldest son and daughter, Chickpea and Cleopatra, get married, again to Cleopatra's great dislike (because they are in love with each other, but she hates him because he is a product rape), and their second daughter, Cleopatra Tryphaena, is married to her cousin Grypus, who then, persuaded by her, begins to resist his mother's influence, and ultimately kills her, poisoning her at the dinner table, just as she had poisoned his late brother, when she tried to do the same with him. [8]

115 BC[edit]

Finally, Queen Cleopatra II dies peacefully in her bed, and her brother, King PotBelly, leaves on his own deathbed a will which he designed to cause mayhem among his family. His wife Cleopatra is named as his successor, but she chooses her favourite younger son, Alexander, to share the throne with her. The mob dislikes that, because Alexander is not the eldest son, so she has no alternative but to proclaim her elder son Chickpea, whom she loathes, King of Egypt instead, but proceeds to divorce him from her eldest daughter Cleopatra, with whom he already has a daughter, Cleopatra Berenike, and to marry her youngest daughter Cleopatra Selene to him instead, making her, and not the firstborn Cleopatra, wife of the king and thus queen consort of Egypt. After that she exiles Cleopatra, who tries to get support with her younger brother Alexander, who is a governor on Cyprus; when she fails, she goes to the court of her cousin Grypus and her sister Tryphaena, who receives orders from her mother to put Cleopatra to death. Cleopatra doublecrosses Grypus and uses her army to help Grypus's brother and rival to the throne, Cyzicenus, who marries her and makes her Queen of Syria, so when the civil war in Syria takes another turn, Grypus and Tryphaena capture Cleopatra and Tryphaena has her killed. Some time later, the war in Syria again takes different turn, and Queen Cleopatra Tryphaena gets captured by her brother-in-law Cyzicenus, who takes revenge upon her for killing his wife, and slowly and painfully kills her. In the meanwhile, Queen Cleopatra III and her daughter, Queen Cleopatra Selene, arrange for Chickpea to be driven out of the kingdom by an angry mob, whom they convince that Chickpea tried to kill his mother. Chickpea flies Egypt and goes to Cyprus, while Alexander finally becomes his mother's co-ruler, whom she treats as a puppet. Selene is married to the widowed King Grypus of Syria, her cousin and ex-brother-in-law, and Cleopatra III forces Alexander to marry his niece Cleopatra Berenike, Chickpea and Cleopatra IV's young daughter. When hearing of this, his secret wife in Cyprus, with whom he even had a son, takes her own life. When Alexander receives the news, he finally stands up to his mother and tries to suffocate her, but fails, only to be helped by the young, but very ambitious Cleopatra Berenike, his niece and chosen bride-to-be, who wants above everything else to become the ruling queen of Egypt, who finishes her grandmother off with a cushion. [9]

100 BC[edit]

Cleopatra Berenike plots to be rid of Alexander who has turned to drink. Egypt's province of Cyrenaica is willed to Rome on the death of Apion, and Alexander does nothing against the wishes of his Generals. The army defies the King, who attempts to raise a new army of Syrian mercenaries to be paid with gold from the Tomb of Alexander the Great. When the city is outraged at the desecration of the tomb, Alexander flees but is pursued and killed. Chickpea reclaims the throne and Cleopatra Berenike's ambition is realised when he makes her joint monarch. However, his death leaves a dangerous power vacuum- and Rome is now taking a more than friendly interest. Rome installs Berenike's nephew Alexander as the new King, much to her dismay; she refuses to consummate their marriage. Alexander accidentally kills her while attempting to rape her, and the mob kills him in turn. Fluter, grandson of Cleopatra III, is made the new King.[10]

80 BC[edit]

Fluter recognises that Rome is the true source of all power and he sets off on an extended royal visit, spending lots of money to bribe both Caesar and the Senate to back him. The Egyptians, furious at this subservience, depose him in his absence and make his wife, Cleopatra Tryphaena (Cleopatra V Tryphaena), and his daughter, Berenike (Berenice IV), joint rulers. [11]

51 BC[edit]

Cleopatra VII, now 18, becomes joint ruler with her brother Ptolemy. Civil war breaks out. It is only the arrival of Julius Caesar that makes a solution possible. Caesar and Cleopatra become lovers. She believes that she has found the man to help her realise her ambition to rule the world. [12]

46 BC[edit]

Cleopatra gives birth to Caesar's son and takes him to republican Rome to persuade Caesar to declare himself King- with her son as heir. She is only defeated by Caesar's assassination. She returns to Egypt, and unites with Mark Anthony. [13]

36 BC[edit]

Mark Anthony's insatiable passion for Cleopatra saps his military judgement. Living only for pleasure, his downfall seems inevitable. Following the defeat at Actium, Cleopatra commits suicide, ending the dynasty. [14]

Main Cast[edit]

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