The studio-bound nature of the series meant that it would have been difficult to illustrate battles or major upheavals convincingly, so The Cleopatras tended not to bother. With Theodotus on hand to push the story along you just have to fill in the blanks yourself.
So at the end of episode one Cleopatra’s mother ruled Egypt, whilst Cleopatra and Pot Belly were exiles. In the space of a few seconds at the start of this episode Theodotus informs us of a total reversal – Cleopatra and Pot Belly have regained the throne whilst Cleopatra’s mother is the one who now finds herself in exile – in Syria.
Needless to say, she’s not best pleased about it and Elizabeth Shepherd continues to wring every last drop of emotion from the role. I can’t honestly say it’s good acting, but she’s highly entertaining.
One of the joys of the series is that there’s a constant stream of first-rate actors who pop up for an episode or two. Due to the amount of fake facial hair (for the men, anyway) it’s sometimes hard to identity them immediately, but their voices tend to be a giveaway. One notable new arrival is Stephen Greif as Demetrius, the King of Syria. Greif’s excellent as the weak-willed king, easily manipulated by Cleopatra’s mother into attempting to invade Egypt and dispose Pot Belly. It’s not a success, alas, and Demetrius finds himself deserted by his men and then executed.
Demetrius’ widow, Cleopatra Thea (Caroline Mortimer), is a chip off the old family block. Her elder son Seleucus (Nicholas Greake) has automatically ascended to the throne, but this doesn’t please her. Her younger son, Grypus (James Aubrey), seems to be much more malleable, so she decides to poison Seleucus. She does so in such a blatant way that it’s more than a little surprising that nobody seems to twig.
Richard Griffiths continues to impress. Pot Belly is a curious mixture of diplomat and tyrant (somewhat similar to Brian Blessed’s Augustus in I, Claudius). He agrees to Cleopatra’s mother’s request to return as Queen for one key reason. “The people are tired of chaos. Oh it’s fun for a time, throwing people out of windows, rioting, looting, burning, refusing taxes. But eventually the people long for peace. And what better symbol can there be of the return to orderly life than the reconciliation of those two great enemies, their King and Queen?”
A peculiarity of the series is that although years have passed since the events of the previous episode, nobody looks any older. This is particularly noticeable when we see Cleopatra and Pot Belly’s children, who are now grown up. When Cleopatra’s daughters look as old as Cleopatra herself it’s slightly odd. She does have a little bit of make-up applied in the next episode, when Cleopatra is an old woman, but Pot Belly (on his deathbed) looks pretty much as he did in the first episode.
Most amusing picture transition in the series so far occurs forty five minutes in, as the picture contracts into a ball and appears to disappear down Cleopatra Thea’s throat!