While Ridley Scott and Oliver Stone and maybe Martin Scorsese or Christopher McQuarrie or someone else duke it out over who’s going to get all David Lean on the big screen, Mel Gibson is taking a cue from fellow producer/thespian Tom Hanks and taking his show to HBO. The fearless leader from Macedon is getting the Band Of Brothers treatment, with a lavish ten hour miniseries written by David Frankel, Jason Horwitch and Kirk Ellis.
I don’t know if one can warn about spoilers when talking about a biography of a real life conquerer who’s been dead for 2300 years, but just in case you’re one of those sensitive types who doesn’t want to know anything until they see it, go no further…
Fire from Heaven tells the story of Alexander the Great, who assumed the throne of Macedonia at age 20 after the assassination of his father, Philip, and went on to conquer most of the known world before his death in Babylon at 33. The film consists of ten onehour episodes. The first three hours begin with Philip’s rise to power in 359 BC, then jump forward 20 years to introduce Alexander at 18, shortly before his graduation from a school run by Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher. Over the next two years, Alexander is caught in a vicious power struggle between his father, and his ambitious mother, Olympias. Philip, a military genius in his own right, has successfully united the city-states of Greece, and wants Alexander at his side as they march into Asia-Minor to liberate the Greeks from the oppressive Persian empire. Olympias loathes Philip and is determined to secure her own shaky position in the Macedonian palace by putting Alexander on the throne as soon as possible. Alexander, meanwhile, strains to find his own path as a prince and warrior in the maze of court politics, accompanied by a close circle of friends (the Companions) including his bastard half-brother, Ptolemy, and his soul-mate, Hephaestion. All of this political maneuvering is set in a lusty, violent world where life is nasty, brutish and short. Philip’s efforts to unite Greece culminate in the battle of Chaeronea, where he routs the Athenians and slaughters the legendary Theban Sacred Band. Having consolidated his power, Philip returns home to find that Olympias has been scheming against him. To thwart her, Philip takes a new wife but the marriage causes a rift with Alexander, who flees with his mother into exile to escape his angry father. He is surrounded, as always, by the only men he can trust, his loyal Companions, who have been his closest friends since childhood. The king and prince are reconciled after a year and resume their planning for the invasion of Asia-Minor. Shortly before they sail off to war, Philip is assassinated by the chief of his bodyguard at a ceremony celebrating his daughter’s wedding. A bloodbath ensues as Alexander consolidates his power both at home and throughout Greece. Then, the young king leads his men across the Hellespont to Asia-Minor and tempts the Persian generals into a pitched battle against the highly trained and experienced Macedonian army. In the first attack, Alexander suffers a quick, bloody loss but regroups overnight and at dawn leads his men to victory over the Persians. The next four hours of the series reveal how Alexander realizes his dreams of glory, quickly accumulating power and wealth until he is, quite literally, the King of the World. In Syria, his army again engages the Persians, led this time by their monarch, Darius. Alexander defeats the Persians easily and captures Darius’ beautiful and seductive wife, Stateira. Despite his efforts to resist her charms, Alexander is soon swept up in a passionate, illicit romance. She travels with him as he marches down the Mediterranean coast, taking Tyre and Gaza, before liberating Egypt, where he is hailed as a God. Still in his early twenties, his destiny seems inevitable: he will destroy Darius, assume the throne of Persia, and marry Stateira, the love of his life. But on the eve of the final conflict against the Persians, Stateira dies in childbirth, and Alexander slowly becomes a man unmoored. Alexander defeats an overwhelmingly large Persian force in the desert north of Babylon, but Darius escapes, only to be killed months later by his own generals. Alexander’s victory on the battlefield brings with it the vast wealth of the Persian empire, making the young king the richest and most powerful man in history. But his success is hollow. Without the stabilizing influence of Stateira’s love or the specific objective of toppling Darius, Alexander’s campaign has lost its purpose and the king himself slowly descends into paranoia and madness.
Alexander The Great: Shown from age 18 to his death (in 323 BC) at 33 years old. Fair skinned, blond curly hair with icy gray eyes, with a strong aggressive physicality. As a young boy Alexander showed signs of superior intelligence and tremendous mental stamina, exhibiting an early obsession with his future status as king. Armed with a quick intelligence, smart but not bookish. Fearless, quietly arrogant, and remarkably charismatic. Tutored by the philosopher Aristotle (along with a group of young men, sons of noble families, who become known as Alexander’s Companions) he was immersed in the sciences, the art of debate and opened to forward thinking. He learned from Aristotle to live an exemplary life, to always make the noble, fearless choice. A natural athlete, skilled horseman, and a superior warrior, he, like his father, is a brilliant battle strategist. Conflicted in his paternal relationship, he struggles to earn his fatherrs favor, admitting ultimately that Philip bore him ill will and jealousy. Yet Alexander admires his father and competes with his memory every day of his life. At the age of twenty, following the assassination of Philip, he becomes King of Macedonia, taking hold of the military reigns with insight, determination and divine inspiration. Always leading them into battle at the head of his cavalry, he is able to capture the imaginations of thousands of fighting men and spur them to unmatched achievement. At 21, he is the unopposed leader of the Greek world, and by twenty-five he conquers Persia. Restless, relentless, and insatiably curious about other cultures and places, he never lets his army stop moving, and when it does, he spends his days in constant activity. Deeply trusting of his closest friends, there is no one more dangerous if crossed. Plays power politics effectively with steely resolve, yet often wears his heart on his sleeve, endearing himself to his men. Becomes the wealthiest man in the world and the most generous. Dreams big. Never refuses a challenge. Disarms friends and enemies with his youth and beauty. An opportunist and a visionary, driven by a tremendous sense of destiny and entitlement nurtured by an intensely ambitious mother. He loves his mother, but recognizes her for the scheming manipulator she is. Like her, he has a dependence on omens, compulsively consulting oracles. Holds himself to the standard set by his hero and ancestor, Achilles. Obsessed with his own myth and desire for everlasting fame, he is corrupted by absolute power, and becomes unpredictable and dangerous.
Philip Of Macedon: Alexander’s father, descendent of Hercules, and King of Macedonia. Strong and sensual, fair skin, dark hair, and possibly blue eyes. The dark, powerful, young prince is of exceptional intellect, enormous appetite, eager to possess everything and everyone in his path. Philip single-handedly created the Macedonian kingdom out of warring tribes. He expanded his kingdom, amassing great wealth, transforming Macedonia from primitive backwater into the most powerful state in Greece. With an inferiority complex about the intellectuals of Athens, he’s determined to prove Macedonians the equals of any Greeks. His aim is the unification of Greece and the liberation of all Greek citizens from the Persian Empire. Larger than life, he takes over a room. Intimidated by no one except brainy intellectuals. Everyone else he charms or crushes. No small gestures. Hugely passionate and bold yet instinctively brilliant about human nature. He sizes up the weaknesses of his friends and enemies and exploits them mercilessly. A military genius, first Greek ruler to hire a professional standing army and train in methods of attack. Inventor of the phalanx, various war machines, and innovative military tactics. A quick, agile thinker who can play dumb to manipulate situations. Would rather win a battle with his charisma than with force. But will do whatever it takes to win. Loves Alexander and admires his military prowess but worries that he is too easily manipulated by Olympias. Because of the ferocious world into which he was born, he cannot really trust anyone, not even his own son. Philip is assassinated at age 46. Appears only in hours 1-3.
Olympias: She is the Queen of Macedon, Philip’s 3rd wife, and mother to Alexander. Gorgeous and sexy and unfulfilled. She is fair-skinned with light or red hair. Possessing a fiery and dangerous temperament, Olympias embodies the contradiction of cold sexuality. The orphaned daughter of a former King from the Molossian house of Epirus, she holds the popular Athenian view of Philip as an uncultured barbarian. Descended from Achilles, Olympias believes in the righteous birthright of her son. Driven by the fear of losing her status, she labors single-mindedly to broaden Alexander’s horizons and give him a strong sense of faith in the gods. She herself is very religious (a devotee of Dionysus, the god of ecstasy) and is believed by many subjects to have the powers of a witch. Her mysterious powers worry Philip too, and for decades no one dares tangle directly with her. Frustrated with her husband, she works tirelessly to assure Alexander’s assent to the throne. But believes that she can control him, and that through him she will gain absolute power. She is ruthless, capable of violence and cruelty. She endows Alexander with his sense of greatness and his sense of destiny. So ambitious her desire and so ruthless her methods, upon Alexander’s death Casssander hands her over to relatives of the people she herself had killed, and they lynch her. Appears only in hours 1-3.
Alexandros Of Epirus: Olympia’s brother, King of the Molossians, based in the city of Dodona. He became king when Philip put him into power. He provides a safe haven in Dodona for Olympias, Alexander & the other Companions when they are exiled from Pella by Philip. While Philip is planning his invasion of Perisa. Alexander has Andreas marry Cleopatra (Andreas’ niece), in order to prevent Andreas from attacking Pella. Appears in hours 1-4.
Attalus: Macedonian General and close friend to King Philip and Cassander. To strengthen his place in the Macedonian Empire he marries Parmenio’s daughter, and arranges the marriage of his own niece, Persephone, to Philip. Attalas begins a blood feud with Pausanias (whom he blames for his cousin’s suicide) and publicly taunts Alexander with threats of Philip’s new son being the true heir to the throne. His actions enrage Alexander, creating an unforgiving enemy in the young prince. Upon Philip’s death Alexander has Persephone and her son killed and Attalas executed. Appears in hours 1-3.
Aristotle: Legendary Athenian philosopher who was Alexander’s tutor at boarding school at Mieza when Alexander was 12. One of Greece’s greatest philosophers and a man of science. Life is a puzzle to be solved. And he’s made a lot of progress on the solution. Captured by Alexander’s charisma, though he considers him too impulsive and violent to make an ideal king. Holds moderate behavior in high regard and strongly influences young Alexander. Considered the Persians to be barbarians and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Alexander of that belief. Despite his friendship with Philip and Alexander, he never quite lost his Athenian arrogance toward Macedonians. Appears in hours 1-3.
Callisthenes: Aristotle’s nephew. 10 years older than Alexander. A member of Alexander’s close knit group of companions, he fought alongside him. He eventually became the official chronicler/historian on the campaigns. He believed in Alexander because he believed Alexander to be righteous. He believed the propaganda. Wise but arrogant, judgmental and terribly self-important. An amazing bullshit artist. Condescending to everyone, including the king. Ultimately his pride and his unwavering cultural code are his undoing. He spent years flattering Alexander and spreading the word of his heroics but never grasped that the king wouldn’t tolerate criticism. By refusing to perform the Persian act of obeisance , he ultimately fell out of Alexander’s favor. Later implicated in a plot to overthrow Alexander, he died in prison.
Cleopatra: Alexander’s younger sister. Fair skin and light hair like her brother and mother, she is feminine, but a bit of a free-spirit. Falls into bed a little too quickly with some of her brother’s friends. Marries her mother’s brother, Andreas, King of Epirus to maintain peaceful political ties. Appears in hours 1-3.
Ptolemy: Alexander’s slightly older half brother, life long friend from childhood, member of the companions, a general in Alexander’s forces and a future king himself. Rumored to be the bastard son of king Philip, he could have been heir to the throne if Alexander had been killed, but he loved him and chose instead to follow him. An easy-going adventurer who quickly realized that Alexander was a unique kind of leader who could transform his life in ways he couldn’t dream of. A bit of a romantic, he has the privileged position of knowing and seeing everything, and rarely fails to see the good in Alexander. Upon Alex’s death he becomes Satrap of Egypt founding the Ptolemy Dynasty which lasted through Cleopatra VII. He has a good sense of humor. He loves his woman Thais. He loves a good story, and tells one, too.
Hephaestion: Often referred to as Alexander’s alter ego, he is his closest friend from childhood and sometimes lover, and member of the companions. With similar physical attributes, very handsome and fair, he is occasionally mistaken for the king. A true romantic, fiercely loyal, vain, competitive, thin-skinned. A fierce warrior and leader in his own right, he is nearly as ruthless and resolved as Alexander himself. Absolute power corrupts him absolutely. But his devotion to Alexander never wanes. Unquestioningly loyal and totally his equal, Alexander felt that Hephaestion was the only one who loved him for himself alone. He served faithfully as a General in Alexander’s army, becoming sole commander of the companion cavalry. Seen by his rivals as the second man in the empire and the kingrs most likely successor, he died suddenly in Ecbatana in 324 BC just months before Alexander, possibly poisoned. His death was an enormous personal loss for Alexander.
Parmenio: Chief of Staff of the Macedonian Army. A noble by birth, he is a powerful leader of men. Cautious and political and very wise. Veteran General on many of Philip’s Ilyrian campaigns, he was Philiprs right hand, best friend, closest confidant and companion. After Philip’s assassination, he serves under Alexander, commanding the left wing throughout Alexander’s major battles in Asia Minor. A professional soldier unmoved by Alexander’s romantic ambition but ultimately swayed by the younger manrs charisma. A father figure to the young general, and indeed, a good father to his sons on campaign, all of whom die or are killed along the way. A pragmatist who tries not to let emotion or arrogance affect any of his decision-making. Parmenio is ultimately assassinated at Ecbatana, on Alexander’s orders.
Philotas: Parmenio’s son, one of the companions. Commander of the cavalry under Alexander. A dashing loudmouth and braggart, with the fighting skills to walk the walk. He is too pompous, too vain and too talkative for his own good. But in battle, no one is more reliable, and he is redeemed by his candor and honesty. It is very possible that he was a royal page and educated alongside Alexander at Pella and Mieza. Was implicated in a later plot (330 BC) against Alexander, and killed.
Cassander: Ages from 20rs to mid 30rs during the series, Macedonian. Companion to Alexander because he’s the son of Antipater, but actually is Alexander’s lifelong enemy. A capable fighter in battle. A rat at court. Always intriguing and scheming with the dark forces. His motives are always murky. But in the end he sees his way to power and achieves it. A cackling two-faced liar who acquires smoother moves over time from his father. Friend to Attalus, smart and likeable, gossip and conspirator. Frequent victim of Alexander’s rage. He succeeds Alexander after his death and has Olympias, Roxanne and Alexander’s son put to death. Appears in hours 1-3 and 10.
Antipater: Macedonian General and statesman who serves under both Philip and Alexander. Entrusted by Philip to act as counselor to Alexander during his regency while Philip was at war. Antipater survives them both. A strong track record as a general. A noble statesman. Trusted implicitly by Philip and then by Alexander. He has a reassuring, unemotional manner, but vulnerable when it comes to women. Falls in love with Olympias and later comes to hate her. Appears in hours 1-3.
Demosthenes: Legendary Athenian politician and orator fiercely opposed to Macedonian Imperialism and a strong voice in Athens against Philip. Phillip’s contemporary, he controls the Athenian assembly while in the pocket of the Persians. A selfimportant man with a silver tongue he is the greatest public speaker in Greece. As a child he had a horrible stutter, and taught himself to speak correctly by talking with stones in his mouth. A hypocrite and a coward who professes high ideals, he led the Allied forces against Philip at Chaeronea, and is said to have fled the field. Too political, and not smart enough to be the leader he pretends to be. Has a physicality that perhaps makes him look heroic, but he is not. No sense of humor. Appears in hours 1-3.
Black Cleitus: Ages from 20’s to mid 30’s during the series, Macedonian. Friend to Alexander. Older than Alexander by 3-4 years, contemporary of Ptolomy. Swarthy , black haired, dark Greek. Sometimes called Cleitus the Black. Macedonian Sergeant Cavalry Officer. A very good soldier and very brave in battle. Used by Philip for delicate missions. Brother to Alexander’s nursemaid. An old fashioned Macedonian soldier, can drink anyone under the table. Always rambling on about the good old days under Philip. Saved Alexander’s life at the Battle of Granicus in 334 BC, but was killed by Alex in a drunken argument in 328 when Cleitus complained of Alexander’s god-like claims and lack of precedence given to his Macedonian leaders & troops. His weakness is his unrestrained honesty. Appears in hours 1-8.
Stateira: The Queen of Persia, wife and sister to King Darius Must speak English and Farsi. Is said to be the most beautiful woman in Asia. Alexander felt that she was “torture to his eyes.” Stunningly beautiful, and stronger in character than her husband Darius. She is in essence noble. She wants to act nobly and support her husband, but she is torn because she is drawn to Alexander’s strength & courage. After capturing Darius’ family, Alexander falls in love with Stateira, impregnates her, but both she and the child die in childbirth. She’s the flip side of Olympias, beautiful and powerful, but she is pure. Stateira is the great love of Alexander’s life. Appears in hours 4-6.
Darius: King of Persia, handsome, speaks Farsi. A successful general before he seized power, he is easily intimidated by Alexander in battle. Frequently finds himself on the run. He has a great love for his wife, Stateira, who is also his sister. The wealth and comforts of the royal life in Persia have made him weak and nervous. His impulsive military decisions are almost always wrong. And even his well-calculated plans seem to fail because of his ineffective leadership. He never imagines that his empire could fall to the young Macedonian king and when it does, he loses his will to live. Appears in hours 4-7.
Roxanne: From the tribes of Soghdia (modern day Kandahar) Alexander takes her for his wife perhaps because she reminds him of Stateira. Possibly green eyes with dark hair. A fierce young tribal princess. Attracted to Alexander but not eager to leave her family and home. Stunningly beautiful, but a bit of a tomboy, with surprising strength and agility. Never quite takes to the life of a pampered princess. She is pregnant with his child when Alexander dies. Roxanne and her son (Alexander’s 13 year old heir, Alex IV) are later killed by Cassander.
Bagoas: Younger than Alexander, he is a stunningly handsome eunuch. Will speak English and Farsi and must be able to sing and dance. When his father was killed, he was taken prisoner and forced into a life of servitude. His master, using him to repay his own debt, gave Bagoas to Alexander as a peace offering. Eventually he becomes Alexrs lover. Alexander uses him as an interpreter and guide to Persian politics, language, costume and custom. His access gives him influence, and he is mainly responsible for persuading Alexander to adopt the Persian customs that ultimately alienate his closest friends. One episode, The Persian Boy is told from his perspective. Appears in hours 4-10.
Sisygambis: Persian Queen Mother (to Darius and Stateira.) Mid to late 50rs, speaks Farsi. When she realizes her son Darius is going to lose the battle against Alexander, she decides to remain with Alexander to save herself. She survives Stateira and goes on to Babylon. A sturdy mother-figure to Alexander. Appears in hours 4-7.
Thais: Gorgeous Athenian courtesan whom Ptolemy loves. Wonrt marry Ptolemy because she insists on maintaining her independence. A great beauty, and equally great manipulator of men.
The final three hours of the series tell the story of that descent. From Persia, Alexander sets out on a wild goose chase across the Iranian desert to capture Darius, but arrives too late: Darius is already dead. Other wild forays into the deserts and mountains of Afghanistan are meant to secure the armyrs path south to India but often seem to his men as pointless exercises in violence. At the same time Alexander infuriates many of his fellow Greeks by embracing Persian culture, surrounding himself with Persian courtiers, and demanding Persian-style displays of respect that conflict profoundly with the more democratic Macedonian manners. The inevitable grumbling and scheming make the king, now drinking more than ever, deeply paranoid. He brands many of his closest friends as conspirators and executes them after clumsy show trials. The bloody chain of events reaches its nadir when, during yet another drunken revel, Alexander himself kills one of his oldest friends, Cleitus the Black, for criticizing him in public. Despite his failings, however, the army is still prepared to follow Alexander into India. There, fighting during a monsoon against a huge army reinforced with dozens of elephants, the Macedonians achieve another important victory. It is to be their last, however. The army refuses to follow Alexander deeper into India. They have traveled over fifteen thousand miles under frequently unbearable conditions. They have been away from Greece for nearly eight years. They want to go home. Unable to dissuade the mutineers, the king agrees to lead his men home. But he steers the army through the waterless Gedrosian desert, where heat, thirst and flash floods kill two thirds of his men. When they return to central Persia, Alexander finds that his empire has been corrupted by the governors and bureaucrats he left in power. A bloody purge follows. The king is now so reckless and unpredictable that even his closest, most loyal friends donrt know who will die next. Finally, the companions are forced to take desperate measures to preserve the 33-year old kingrs everlasting fame as Alexander the Great.
Rehearsals begin in late June, with shooting scheduled to begin August 5 and continue until April 2003, with locations in Italy, Morocco and Thailand.