Fluter is old and dying (although as has been observed before, people rarely seem to look older during successive episodes – there’s certainly none of the elaborate ageing makeup which was used in I Claudius). He’s chosen Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy (Daniel Beales), as his heirs – with three people to act as regents until Ptolemy comes of age.
It’ll come as no surprise that the apparently meek and submissive Cleopatra is dazzled by the prospect of power. In her father’s hearing she wishes that he would hurry up and die, although she’s quick to cover this up (claiming that she wished him to hurry up and get well).
After Fluter’s death, Cleopatra quickly displays the autocratic streak that runs through her family and firmly rejects the approach of her brother’s three regents. One of them, Pothinius, played by John Righam, looks extraordinary – but despite being caked in makeup still manages to deliver his lines with conviction. What a pro! Daniel Beales is entertainingly squeaky as the boy king, completely dominated by his older sister. He also has another sister, Arsione (Francesca Gornshaw) who immediately catches the eye.
As for Cleopatra, she spends her time flirting with the likes of Pompey (Philip Cade) and giggling about it afterwards with her servants. As usual, they’re bare-breasted, and amongst their number is Shirin Taylor. Eleven minutes in we’re told that the mob is rioting (you can almost set your watch by them). This sees Cleopatra driven from Egypt thanks to the machinations of the wily Pothinius.
Robert Hardy returns as Julius Caesar. When Theodotus (Graham Crowden) brings him the head of Pompey, he doesn’t react with the sort of delight that Theodotus was probably expecting. Instead he mourns for a man who by chance and circumstance became his enemy. How historically accurate this is is open to question, but it implies that Caesar has a greater sense of morality than the rulers of Egypt.
His meeting with the boy-king Ptolemy is another interesting scene. Ptolemy is offended that Caesar didn’t rise when he entered the room, but Caesar – telling him that they got rid of their kings some time ago – is unabashed, offering him a cheery “how do you do” and a firm handshake. He’s also asked for a meeting with the queen, but Caesar does wonder if she’ll manage to make it past the likes of Pothinius. When you see one of her servants carrying a carpet it’s not difficult to imagine what’s coming next. The carpet is unrolled to reveal ……. Cleopatra.
It’s a bit of a damp squib moment it must be said, although the expression of delight on Hardy’s face almost makes up for it. Just as good is the moment when Caesar releases she’s Cleopatra (and not, as he originally thought, a prostitute). Michelle Newell continues to play Cleopatra with a strange mixture of girlish naivety and ruthless calculation. It’s slightly odd, but certainly effective, as Caesar falls under her spell and restores her to the throne.
Robert Hardy is the stand-out performer during this episode. His Julius Caesar is both a diplomat and a soldier, who also possesses a wry sense of humour. And Hardy’s more naturalistic performance contrasts nicely with some of the more mannered and dramatic turns that pop up during the series .