Queen Cleopatra (2023) ‘Netflix’ Review: Netflix’s Queen Cleopatra dominated headlines prior to its May 10 release. Many of the prominent conversations among people focused on the series’ casting and accuracy. The former would undoubtedly raise questions, as is always the case, with one side being offended by a particular choice. The other, well, it wouldn’t have been so much of a problem had the series been sold as a pure fictional take on the last Pharaoh of Egypt. What the ones behind the fourth wall ended up getting was a mix of scripted retelling (shot footage) of the past laced with voiceovers (expert retelling) from established field-specific experts ranging from professors to Ph.D. candidates to Egyptologists.

It lent credibility to the streaming platform’s offering as a documentary but left out a very important question. The one whose name we must remember to keep out of our mouths was largely absent. In fact, I didn’t even notice her until her name popped up once the credits rolled at the end of Episode 1 Rivals. Was Jada Pinkett Smith even there? As far as I remember, the academics were narrating everything.

Being a docuseries, audiences may have expected the historical narration. These really helped when the on-screen happenings were a tad slow, but at times they took away from the build-up. The repeat shots of the desert were also quite annoying. Like, we get it. Egypt is sandy. Talk about re-iteration, indeed.

Despite that feeling, the experts gave viewers a glimpse of the backstory that lent weight to each dialogue and nonverbal exchange. We began with an introduction to the titular character as someone who walked through the sands of time and left footprints so deep. That certainly raised expectations, as the audience had just been presented with a question prior to that. Was Queen Cleopatra a vixen or a strategist? Was she a collaborator or a Maverick?

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Adele James as Queen Cleopatra in Netflix Series
Adele James as Queen Cleopatra in Netflix Series

While there is no explicit leaning towards either side, Queen Cleopatra does show shades of both. This perspective could see audiences lean towards one school of thought. Unfortunately, the show didn’t really expand on the deep footprints. Four episodes, amounting to just under three hours of run time, seemed to skim the surface. A fictional retelling may have had the liberty to escape, but an offering branding itself as a documentary needed to have way more. Audiences invested in this may feel let down by the lack of depth with respect to Ptolemy XIII and Arsinoe. The former gets done away with quite quickly, with his one shining moment lasting for barely a minute.

Despite all the history, the series’ narrators try to relate it to the common folk. They compare the Ptolemy Dynasty with a rather familiar name from Westeros. It is quite like that with sibling matrimony and betrayal. It actually was true and not manufactured.

Adele James didn’t strictly command the screen as Cleopatra. Was she present? Yes! But even if she was recast, it may have been fine. It was a failure on two fronts, one by the actress to make the role her own, and two by the producers for opting to structure their series in this manner. Whenever I felt the reel Cleopatra would command the attention of the fourth wall, there were cuts to the experts talking. I wonder why we had to see their faces. Had the makers of Queen Cleopatra heard of voiceovers? They could have had the experts spew knowledge whilst James’ character silently occupied the screen.

Usually, even with a lack of screen time, some cast members really stand out. It was the case with Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and Anne Hathaway’s Cosette in Les Miserables. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Queen Cleopatra. None of the supporting cast even stood out. With the heavyweight real names that did appear, it was another negative in a mini-series laced with major letdowns.

Would you want to watch this Netflix docuseries? Hell no. Avoid it. You can read up about Cleopatra and get way more knowledge of her without all the drama. It would even be quicker or more insightful. A suggestion would be to even look to explore alternate fictional content about the ruler. 1963’s Cleopatra comes to mind. Audiences looking for something fun and fictional could opt for the Asterix and Obelix Cleopatra film.

Also, Read Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story ‘Netflix’ Miniseries: Recap & Ending Explained

Queen Cleopatra Series (2023) Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Queen Cleopatra Series (2023) Cast – Adele James, Craig Russell, Nada El Belkasmi
Where to watch Queen Cleoptra

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