First, let’s face it, laugh. Because who else but Philippe Collin would dare to start like this and claim that the story of Cleopatra begins in the 20th century? And immediately tell yourself that not only is he right, but that, without ever sacrificing the requirement or the precision of the subject, he deploys unparalleled storytelling talents. That it happens, and this on sometimes difficult historical subjects, to make us want to “binge” as if it were the last season of a particularly successful series.

But let’s resume, as this trained historian would no doubt say. We are in New York, June 12, 1963. On Broadway, two thousand guests rush to the Rivoli cinema to see Cleopatra, the film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz with a shooting as titanic as it is incredible. The harsh criticism, especially of Elizabeth Taylor, “would not have displeased Rome’s propaganda because denigrating Cleopatra was the golden rule after her death”, warns Philippe Collin from the outset.

“Hook”, “witch”, “foreign”, the Egyptian ruler was called many names and “even today we are victims of these ancient stereotypes to the point that historical reality is buried under clichés and myth”.

So, in an attempt to understand who Cleopatra really was, in the light of recent research and in the company of historians Bernard Legras, Yann Le Bohec, Maurice Sartre, Nathalie Cohen, Violaine Sebillotte-Cuchet and Christian-Georges Schwentzel, Philippe Collin devotes five episodes of mad density and richness.

Political ambition

In the beginning was her father, Ptolemy XII, who associated her with power when she was only a teenager. The young girl is intelligent, cultured, polyglot (she spoke seven languages), with a keen sense of reality. Succeeding her father, she does not hide her political ambition: “To preserve the prestige and durability of the Ptolemaic dynasty, to be the worthy heiress of Alexander the Great. »

To do this, Cleopatra will rely on Caesar, says episode 2. And immediately warn that if these two beasts loved each other – Cleopatra would have arrived in Caesar’s room hidden in a duffel bag, which also participates in the mythology of love at first sight -, “it is above all a political meeting”, as the historian Maurice Sartre reminds us. Be that as it may, with monster nerve, Cleopatra charms Caesar, who makes her his mistress. While the latter is assassinated in Rome, Philippe Collin maintains the suspense: what about Cleopatra’s primary ambition? Did his dream die with Caesar?

To find out, just listen to this absolutely remarkable podcast. Let’s just say, like a desire to hear more, that Cleopatra was a queen and a pragmatic stateswoman who learned very early to navigate differently in the face of men of power. Finally, let us say that it is Véronique Vella who lends her voice to the readings of ancient sources. That we could not dream of better than the French actress for this eminently feminist series. It is therefore an understatement to say that we are eager to listen to the one that Philippe Collin is preparing, among others, around Simone de Beauvoir. But that is the horizon of 2023.