There is no dearth of historical documentaries on Netflix. The numbers are staggering, and it is interesting how the platform is bringing forward never-before-heard or seen stories of kings and queens from around the world. They also cover stories of other figures from the ancient world, which helps the audience receive a different perspective on the lives they led. It allows us to understand the politics of the world and the contribution of a respective figure in world history. It could be a cultural or political impact that survived all this time for historians to speak about and educate people about. History cannot be restricted to school textbooks anymore. It is interesting that this subject is being presented through OTT platforms in a way that is very different from classroom lessons.
World War II: From the Frontlines, Greatest Events of WWII in Color, Spy Ops, Queen Cleopatra, Roman Empire, The Last Czars, and Rise of Empires: Ottoman are some of the best series on Netflix that deal with historical events, figures, and dynasties, and there are many experts on the subject that speak on the above topics and the way they changed the face of the world.
Alexander: The Making of a God is a brand-new documentary miniseries from Netflix that extensively covers the initial conquests of the infamous prince of Macedonia, who went on to become the King of Persia, who many later hailed as the King of Kings. The documentary series is a Netflix original that was released on January 31, 2024. This six-part series is a lot better than Oliver Stone’s 2004 film Alexander, starring Colin Farell. This show takes time to develop into a full-fledged story, and because it is a series, the makers and the writers have ample time to establish Alexander’s past before he became the king of Macedonia. He planned to begin the conquest of the Persian Empire, as they had become a nuisance on their borders. No one expected the young monarch of a small kingdom to ever become a cause for concern to the large and mighty Persian Empire.
Apart from the experts speaking in detail about Alexander and drawing comparisons between him and his nemesis Darius III, this documentary projects them as monarchs trying to showcase their power as the new kings of their respective empires. Darius III of the Persian Empire was a recently established monarch, just like Alexander, and their agenda was to retain their legacy. The best aspect of the documentary was that the makers were not trying to glorify either of the kings. Even though the documentary is solely about Alexander himself, the makers spoke in depth about Darius III, who was also a monarch of the larger empire and initially underestimated his enemy’s strength and war maneuvers.
Since this is a tale of a historical figure, there are no spoiler alerts here because all of them are dead and have left behind long legacies in Egypt and Greece. Directors Hugh Ballantyne, Mike Slee, and Stuart Elliott have presented the documentary series in a historical drama manner, which adds to the engagement factor. The experts who speak on the show have a lot to add about the politics of that era. They also paint a gray picture of Alexander, who was a great politician surrounded by the right kind of counsel, and on the other side, he was a ruthless tyrant who didn’t hesitate to make his stance clear if anyone was planning to betray him in court or on the battlefield. The same could be said about Darius as well, who was not very keen on burning the crops because it would affect his countrymen, but later, he had to resort to that tactic to defeat his enemy. The direction is excellent, and not much time is wasted titillating the audience. The pacing and the screenplay are straightforward, as the show makers only want to focus on retelling the war that occurred between Alexander and Darius III, the former’s conquest of Egypt, and his journey to being called the son of a god, who was destined to be the king. It was interesting to hear Alexander taking the spiritual route, one of the many ways to help him form a good rapport with the people of the land he conquered and not come across as a tyrant.
The writings of Christopher Bell and Jane McLean Guerra also focused on the contribution of the mother, wife, and daughter in making these monarchs powerful men. It was interesting to know how many of these women were not even spoken about in literature up until recently, when it became important to showcase their power in keeping the kingdom and its king happy, alive, and intact. Women have shades of gray, and they make moves just to remain alive and in power. The crisp, tight writing allowed the show to remain steady till the end. Even though the direction becomes clumsy in the last two episodes, it does not get rid of the emotional aspect of the show. The show beautifully captures the element of divinity and the belief system that made Alexander believe he was the son of God, walking amongst mortals and fulfilling his duty of being a stealth warrior and a great king.
The biggest setback of the show was the introduction of Dr. Calliope Limneos-Papakosta, aka Dr. Pepi, a Greek archeologist who was obsessed with King Alexander and found out a lot more about the city of Alexandria he founded, which was a hub of culture and education. Dr. Pepi was permitted to excavate the current city to retrieve as many artifacts as possible and the remains of the ancient city, along with the tomb of King Alexander. Though this subplot was interesting, the makers only remembered to talk about Dr. Pepi’s extensive work in Alexandria once every three episodes. There was a case of disjointedness between the two main subplots, as Dr. Pepi’s work was not given much screen time in the documentary.
The music by Taran Mitchell was a rousing experience, but the soundtrack was too similar to the Game of Thrones album. It has become the norm in every historical documentary or television show to add music that sounds a lot like Ramin Djawadi’s work for the cult classic show. The cinematography by Christopher Titus King adds another layer of complexity, as many shots help the viewers understand the dilemmas Alexander goes through as a war-experienced king.
The performances of the actors cast to play the four key characters: Alexander, Ptolemy, Hephaestion, and Darius III, were excellent. The other key female characters; Olympia, Stateira, and Barsine, were also perfectly cast, and they spoke about the importance of women in court. Buck Braithwaite as Alexander embodied the role of the king aptly, who goes through many ups and downs as a new ruler trying to find his foothold. Mido Hamada, as Darius III, sadly tried to mimic Jason Momoa but couldn’t quite clinch it when it came to portraying the role of a king who was put on the back foot right from the beginning of the war between himself and Alexander. Agni Scott, as Stateira, is a brilliant addition as a woman in a male-dominated society who is trying her level best to use her position to her benefit.
Overall, Alexander: The Making of a God is an excellent documentary, and it ends with a hint that Netflix might release a second season as the story of the King of Kings is not yet over. We look forward to the next season, as this current one was an engaging watch and offers a good insight into the life of one of the greatest monarchs to have ever lived on planet Earth.