The flood of dramas featuring hordes of bearded men fighting with swords will not stop any time soon, certainly not for at least a decade after “Game of Thrones” goes off the air. Some of the shows commissioned in the wake of the Westeros phenomenon are actually quite good. History’s “Vikings” is one of the most subversive and beautifully shot sword epics around, and there have been other beard-and-horse chronicles that have more or less gotten the job done.
Then there’s “Knightfall.” If you set your expectations low, and just want something fairly mindless with acceptable swordplay and a couple of decent performances, you’ll be fine. If you want anything more from this show, you’re likely to be let down.
One of the aforementioned bright spots is served up by Tom Cullen, who plays a leader of the Knights Templar in medieval France. The dialogue on this show is often clunky in the extreme, but Cullen has a charismatic presence, and by dint of sheer talent, he is able to lift some of his scenes out of the miasma of averageness that envelops most of the drama.
Another “Downton Abbey” veteran, Jim Carter, is a treat as Pope Boniface, who arrives in Paris to meddle in the affairs of the Templars and the French court. As we know from his work on the English period drama, as an actor, Carter excels at playing self-important, slightly pompous meddlers. Carter steals every scene that he’s in, not that he has much competition in that department. A few members of this cast are downright dreadful.
There are a lot of stilted conversations about the Holy Grail, all of which will make some members of the audience want to quote memorable lines from a certain Monty Python film. There are also exposition-heavy discussions of going off to defend the One True Faith in the Holy Land, but don’t look to “Knightfall” to mine any timely themes or dynamics.
This is a lumpy, awkwardly paced, derivative show that doesn’t boast much in the way of impressive visuals or engaging characters. Those looking for a little light history will also likely be disappointed; the story’s scattered nuggets about the context and history of the Templars are not typically made compelling in any way.
All in all, aside from those two good performances and a lot of impressive beards, “Knightfall” doesn’t slay.
Cast, Tom Cullen, Padraic Delaney, Simon Merrells, Jim Carter, Olivia Ross, Ed Stoppard, Julian Ovenden, Sabrina Bartlett.
Executive producers, Don Handfield, Richard Rayner, Jeremy Renner, Dominic Minghella, Jeff Pinkner, Andre Nemec, Josh Applebaum, Scott Rosenberg, Barry Jossen, Douglas Mackinnon.
Drama; 10 episodes (2 reviewed); History, Weds., Dec. 6, 10 p.m. 60 min.