Film: NETFLIX: Alexander: The Making of a God
Director: Hugh Ballantyne, Stuart Elliott and Mike Slee
Cast: Buck Braithwaite, Mido Hamada, Dino Kelly, Will Stevens, Nada El Belkasmi, Alain Ali Washnevsky, Kosha Engler, Steven Hartley
Alex! We may know him as Alexander, the Great, but in ‘Alexander: The Making of a God’, he is more of Alex (Buck Braithwaite) for his lover Heph aka Hephaestion (Will Stevens), his friend Ptol aka Ptolemy (Dino Kelly), and also for directors Ballantyne and Co. So it seems. And, before we frown upon his PDA with Heph, a team of experts is quick to fill us in — homosexuality was accepted in 336 BC Greece.
There are three parallel tracks in this six-episode docu-series that build up the Boy King. The first being the dramatised version starting from the days of his self-exile in Illyria; second, the excavation in the city of Alexandria by Dr Calliope Limneos-Papakosta, and third, inputs from historians.
“It’s a wonderful Agatha Christie mystery really,” says Prof Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, as he explains Alexander’s return to Macedonia for his sister’s wedding. The day his father, King Philip II (Christopher Sciueref), is assassinated. Prof Lloyd sees the shadow of Alexander’s mother Olympias (Kosha Engler) behind the murder. But the moment the throne is thrust on the 20-year-old, the Agatha Christie mystery becomes more of a ‘Game of Thrones’.
Can’t say we were not warned! The show opens with a prophetic warning from an oracle (Souad Faress) that a bloody war is coming. And we are shown the map, the tiny Macedonia and the mighty Persian Empire, which housed nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population at that time.
Enter Darius (Mido Hamada), the mighty ruler of Persia. Not from the noble line, he achieved legitimacy as a Persian ruler through his marriage to Stateira, who had royal blood.
‘Drip-fed by his mother,’ to borrow Prof Lloyd’s expression, Alexander believes that he is the son of Zeus, the most powerful God, and sets out to prove his mettle by conquering the world. What follow are endless battles with the Persian army and a short stint of ‘Pharaoship’ in Egypt.
“Alexander still grips the imagination,” says Dr Salima Ikram. The experts call him a poet, philosopher, scientist and explore the contrasting traits — Alexander, the empire builder, and the tyrant. Dr Carolyn Willekes takes great pains to explain his battle strategies, which sadly translate into lacklustre fight scenes on screen.
It’s not just the battle scenes that lack nuances. His style of untying the Gordian Knot, which was supposed to open the gates of victory to the whole of Asia, comes across as a cheap stunt pulled off by three young chaps.
Braithwaite tries to look his part, and in the initial stage, he does fit the bill to a certain extent, but fails to pull it off as the battle-hardened Alexander in later episodes. Ballantyne and team have overstretched their imaginative powers to make the divine angle in Alexander’s life look relevant. Alexander makes a pilgrimage to Amun temple in Siwa, along with Heph and Ptol. To reach there, they have to travel through Sahara desert for days, braving sandstorm and all. But when they arrive, they look fresh, except for a few specks of sand on their faces. And when he comes out of the temple, he is a changed man. For, the oracle confirms that he is the son of Amun Ra, the Egyptian God who is revered as Zeus in Macedonia.
The recreation of the chain of events, disjointed at many places, looks pale when pitted against expert comments. In fact, Prof Lloyd and Dr Willekes are so animated while talking about their subject that their expressions alone add drama to the narrative. Dr Calliope Limneos-Papakosta’s reconstruction of the man behind the myths and folklore through excavated materials lends gravity to Alexander and the era he lived in. The series would have been a treat for history buffs, if only Ballantyne didn’t turn Alexander, the Great, into just another Alex.