The opening of this episode finds Fluter and his brother and sister barely able to believe their good fortune. Fluter’s now king, his sister Cleopatra Tryphaena (Emily Richard) will shortly become his wife (thereby strengthening the royal bloodline since Fluter was illegitimate) whilst Fluter’s brother Ptolemy (Graham Seed) plaintively wonders if there’s a small part of Egypt that he could possibly rule.
All three play these initial scenes in a very childlike way, reacting with open-eyed wonder at the events occurring around them. It’s another left-field acting choice, but it contrasts well with their advisors, Philocles (John Bennett) and General Chaeteas (Morris Perry), who seem very grown up in contrast. When Fluter’s told that he’s a king and can do anything he wants – such as making Ptolemy the king of Cyprus – he reacts with unbridled joy. “Two kings and a queen. We’ll have such fun.” And Adam Bareham is great fun as Fluter, to begin with he generates a very appealing eager youthfulness that’s quite different from the jaded, back-stabbing maneuvering we’ve previously seen.
It seems likely that Fluter will be hopelessly manipulated by his advisors, but we jump forward to hear Theodotus tell the current Cleopatra that he was one of the greatest kings that ever lived. The fact that Fluter was Cleopatra’s father leads her to suppose that he’s attempting to flatter her, but he insists not. This is another interesting narrative choice as it allows the audience to learn the outcome of this part of the story before they know anything else.
Of course, it doesn’t take long before Fluter becomes as autocratic and manipulative as his predecessors, although he does so with an appearance of affability. In one of the more bizarre scenes in the series (although there’s plenty of other contenders) he tells his advisors that they need to dress as women and imbibe copious amounts of alcohol. This pains Demetrius (Roger Brierley) who drinks nothing but water, but it’s made plain that to disobey the king’s order is to invite death. So he bites the bullet and drags up along with the others!
There’s plenty more familiar faces who can be spotted under the wigs and fake facial hair. John Arnatt squirms delightfully as Sophron, who earns the displeasure of the older Fluter whilst John Savident is Pythagoras, who like all the others has to tread softly around the less affable Fluter. Moray Watson is another solid performer, he plays the affable Roman, Gabinius, who finds it easy to manipulate the king.
Fluter travels to Rome in order to try and convince them to recognise Egypt as an independent nation and him as their legitimate ruler. Julius Caesar (Robert Hardy) might be able to help – if the bribe is big enough. Hardy’s a class performer and Caesar will be a key figure for the next few episodes. As will, of course, Mark Anthony (Christopher Neame).
It’s either the corrupting influence of power or simply indifference, but Fluter registers very little interest in the news that Rome will shortly invade Cyprus and depose his brother. Before that happens, Ptolemy elects to take poison – in a nicely played scene by Graham Seed (an actor who did the I Claudius/The Cleopatras double).
His brother’s death, and the loss of Cyprus, angers the people and they move to depose Fluter. His attempt to find allies leads to a meeting with the Roman officer Cato (Godfrey James). Cato’s not interested in helping and his discussion with Fluter – with Cato on the toilet, dealing with a particularly stubborn bowel movement – is another of those unexpected moments that (depending on your point of view) either makes The Cleopatras a delight or a despair.
Fluter’s removal from power and his wife’s death sees their daughter Berenike (Shelagh McLeod) take their place. This inches us closer to the present day as Cleopatra remembers her sister ascending the throne. Berenike needs to marry in order to consolidate her position and Pythagoras thinks he has the ideal candidate, a member of the Syrian royal family. He does warn her that Seleucus (Colin Higgins) is a little rough around the edges, which he certainly is. Seleucus admits he has a body odor problem, but tells her “you just have to get used to it that’s all. Come on, I’ve known girls who’ve quite liked it. They said it gave it a bit of a flavour. Wait till I’m your husband, we’ll have none of this mucking about then.”
It’s another tongue in cheek moment which ends with Seleucus being dragged off by Berenike’s guards. She couldn’t take his advances any more, so she orders him to be strangled. She finds Archelaus (Graham Pountney) to be much more acceptable, but their happiness is short-lived (it lasts for about twenty seconds or so) before Fluter and the Roman Army led by Gabinius kill them both and return Fluter to power.
This brings the story up to date and with Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony waiting in the wings, the story of the current Cleopatra will be played out over the closing installments.