Immortal Egypt with Joann Fletcher, review: 'excellent'
Joann Fletcher was disarmingly enthusiastic throughout this four-part BBC Two series, says Phil Harrison
As the excellent four-part series Immortal Egypt with Joann Fletcher (BBC Two) has shown us, ancient Egyptians were obsessed with posterity. However, Fletcher's greatest achievement has been to rescue these abstract historical figures from the ossuary and endow them with real, relatable humanity. As a well-qualified and prolific Egyptologist, she has expertise beyond dispute. There's also her passion – declaiming enthusiastically from burial chambers and stomping keenly around archaeological digs, she's frequently seemed not just fascinated by her subjects but visibly moved by their travails.
Tonight, Fletcher concluded her exploration by walking us through the empire's long decline. But in doing so, she put some redemptive spin on this civilisation's disintegration. After all, doesn't our enduring fascination suggest that, on their own terms, these decadent pharaohs and vainglorious queens have had the last laugh?
As with many empires, Egypt eventually lost itself in navel-gazing and decadence. All the while, enemies were massing at the gates. But who remembers the Kushites now? The odd thing, Fletcher observed, about the successive invasions – by Libyans, Assyrians, Persians, and whoever else happened to be wandering through the area – was that philosophically, politically and culturally, Egypt seemed to affect them more than they managed to affect Egypt. Which is conclusive proof that even if it couldn't sustain itself in the short term, this was an empire built to last.
Fletcher was every bit as disarmingly enthusiastic about the produce found on an Alexandrian market stall as she was about a vast, ornate Pharaoh's tomb. And quite right too: this series, with its tales of hubris, invention and endurance, has shown how, in common with all great empires, Egypt's wider belief systems interacted and collided with life as it was really lived.