Tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT, History Channel premieres “Knightfall,” a 10-part series ostensibly about the Knights Templar. History even offered a historian as an interview, but that hardly seems relevant, because precious little of “Knightfall” has much to do with the actual history of the Knights Templar.
You can watch it if you want, but this may be a case where I did, so you don’t have to.
The series purports to be about the waning days of the religious order/fighting force in the early 1300s. The Templars began as protectors of Catholic pilgrims from Muslim forces in Holy Land during the Crusades, and took a strange journey to end up as international bankers in France.
Of all the injustices done to the Knights Templar, by King Philip IV of France (who took it upon himself to burn Templars for heresy — or to get their money, you decide) and by the Vatican (which later apologized for having disbanded the Templars, despite absolving them of heresy), “Knightfall” is a minor sin, but still a shame.
If all you want is a lot of blood, swordfighting and sex, sure, go ahead. There’s plenty of all of the above. And apparently, the Templars like to troop around their Temple and the streets of Paris constantly decked out in full chain mail and battle armor. But hey, it looks good.
Oh, and when Pope Boniface VIII (played by Jim Carter of “Downton Abbey” fame) shows up, he wears the full pope robes and the big pope crown or hat at all times. He probably slept in them, but I can’t say that for sure.
All you’ll ostensibly learn about the Templars is they were obsessed with finding the Holy Grail — which, by the way, is more of a legendary and literary object, not an actual historical artifact. Christ indeed drank from a cup during the Last Supper, but whether the Grail actually refers to that cup or not, the cup itself has never been identified.
So, despite all the people who may have sought the Grail, you can’t go point to it anywhere. We have alleged pieces of the True Cross, but nobody claims to have the Grail on a shelf. The series, though, accepts the Grail as a cup, and as an actual thing, which makes a few key appearances.
Pope Boniface is also obsessed with the Grail, with visions of an absolute European theocracy, established by the mighty power of the Grail, dancing in his head. Yep.
Obviously, he took a cue from Hitler’s obsession with the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Speaking of Indiana Jones, coincidentally or not, the Grail in question looks a great deal like the cup eventually found in “Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail,” echoes of which are seen in “Knightfall.” Remember the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword in the “Indy” movie? They’re here, reformed as the Brotherhood of the Sun (whatever that means), Muslim knights in search of the powerful Cup of Christ. Why Muslims would give a fig for the Holy Grail or think it holds divine power is beyond me, but there you go.
“Knightfall” also has liberal doses of the Camelot tale. The head Templar, a surly, bearded fellow (OK, most of the Templars are surly and bearded, but this one has the best and most visible abs) named Landry (Tom Cullen), is having an affair with Queen Joan (Olivia Ross), the wife of his best pal, King Philip (Ed Stoppard). If you think this sounds like the triangle of Lancelot, Guinevere and Arthur, it does.
Queen Joan does Guinevere one better by even attempting abortion after getting pregnant — heavens, who could have anticipated that might happen?? — but in one small mercy, that sin is avoided … making it one of the few to hold that distinction.
The writers have even tossed in a farmboy called Parsifal, just in case you missed the whole Round Table thing the first time.
There’s also a very modern attempt to increase and expand the roles of the female characters, which winds up doing nobody any favors.
If you put any knowledge of history or theology to one side and just take this as the deadly serious, Templar version of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” I suppose you could have fun watching it. The Templars come off as flawed, not-so-bad guys, if you don’t take the whole mortal-sin thing into account. And the horses are nice.
Not saying I expected more, but I had hoped for more. Should have known better.
My advice: Just rewatch any of the other movies listed above. It’ll be more fun and take up way less of your life.
Cast: Tom Cullen, Jim Carter, Pádraic Delaney, Simon Merrells, Julian Ovenden, Olivia Ross, Ed Stoppard, Sabrina Bartlett, Bobby Schofield, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina … Creators: Don Handfield and Richard Rayner
Images: Courtesy History Channel