KNIGHTFALL (History Channel)
Created by: Don Handfield and Richard Rayner
Starring: Tom Cullen, Olivia Ross, Julian Ovenden, Jim Carter, Padraic Delaney, Sabrina Bartlett and Bobby Schofield
Directed by: Douglas Mackinnon
Written by: Don Handfield and Richard Rayner
When it comes to medieval action, of bold knights clashing on horseback, the term “Templar” often comes to the fore. It’s surprising that we haven’t had many more shows on the topic of the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar. It’s such an intriguing spot of history that seems ripe for a show full of intrigue and action. Following the success of such shows as Vikings, Pillars of the Earth, the ground seems set for Knightfall. So how was the first episode of this sword-fightin’ historical-drama?
Well, Knightfall certainly has action in spades. In this first episode, there is a lot of truly spectacular battle sequences for your eyes to feast upon. Opening on the Fall of Acre, we follow the Knights Templar as they attempt to flee the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land with the Holy Grail. The battle is fierce and full of eye-popping moments, such as a Templar horseback charge that got me onboard with the show instantly. It’s in the midst of this battle we meet our protagonist, Landry (Tom Cullen), and his mentor, the Master of the Templar’s, Godfrey (Sam Hazeldine). Landry distinguishes himself in combat – but unfortunately, the ship holding the Grail is lost, sunk in Acre’s bay.
We jump forward- it’s year’s later, and the Templar hold court in France, under King Phillip (Ed Stoppard). But all is not well- tensions among the Christian and Jewish populace are threatening to boil over into open revolt. Then things get complicated when Godfrey is slain on the road, leaving Landry in charge of the Templar.
On paper, it all seems solid. We’ve got intrigue aplenty, and if you’re passingly familiar with the Knights Templar and their historic fate, you’ll know things are probably going to get worse for Landry and his Templar buddies. But while the actors in episode one work with whats given, it’s unfortunately very little. The characters in Knightfall are all disappointingly one-note. There’s the young monarch bristling for respect, his evil advisor, the seductive queen, the wise old knight, and the wide-eyed farm-boy (**cough Luke Skywalker cough**). Depressingly, it seems like the writers just grabbed a bunch of stock characters and threw them into a pot together. You can easily throw Knightfall on in the background and zone in and out as the plot demands. You’ve probably seen the story beats a few times before in other shows.
Tom Cullen’s Landry is the most well-developed of the lot. He’s bristling against Templar rules and dying to go back to reclaim the Holy Land. That’s all well and understandable, but he’s also got some gripes with the Templar rules around chastity. Toward the end of the episode, it’s revealed who exactly Landry’s been seeing. Honestly, I’m not sure if this is supposed to be a spoiler? The show seems to treat it like one, but it was so ridiculously obvious that he’s shacking up with (SPOILER) The Queen. I can’t see how it would surprise anyone. It’s all rather by the book. The show has a bad habit of setting up intrigue in the most blatantly obvious manner. The scene of Phillip’s adviser, Guillaume de Nogaret advocating expelling the Jews- next scene he’s in the basement with a brigand plotting their expulsion and massacre against Phillip’s wishes. Yawn.
Luckily, while the plot is paper-thin this first episode, the production value of the series is top-notch. The costume design and detail is impressive, as to be expected from a show closely linked to Vikings, another historical show with excellent production. Shot mostly in the Czech Republic, the show really feels like it’s set in the Medieval-era, some truly beautiful countryside, and old stone-walled cities lending to this. The episode’s conclusion, where the Templar ride to the defense of the Jews, is accompanied by some particularly satisfying, slow-mo shots, sort of like a toned down Snyder film.
Verdict: WATCH IT. We’re given a few plot hooks to keep us going into Episode 2. Spoilers that aren’t really spoilers, the Holy Grail didn’t sink in Acre, it’s somewhere in France! And now Landry, in charge of the Knight’s Templar, is going to have to find it. I mean, well, I think everyone figured that out by the end of the first scene. The quest for the Grail is going to be the main plot-line. If you’ve finished the first episode and remained entertained, I’d say check out Episode 2. The historical setting has the potential for some really cool stories within it. That’s if the writers wake up and decide to do something interesting with the characters. Otherwise, you’ll at least have a good time watching the high production values and sword-fights.