King Tutankhamun left behind a treasure trove of trinkets, but his nickname is all that’s really required to serve as the cornerstone for “Tut,” a Spike TV miniseries that unearths the Boy King in order to turn his short life into historical melodrama. Featuring Ben Kingsley as Tut’s scheming vizier, surrounded by young actors often photographed as if this were a shampoo commercial, there are modest pleasures relating to the various palace intrigues, but only marginal momentum to drag an audience across three nights, provided they know enough about history to realize the title character won’t be available for a sequel.
Shot in Morocco at a scale that frequently looks as if it features a cast of, well, dozens, “Tut” begins with the name/age at death and works backward from there. As a result, writers Michael Vickerman, Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg and director David Von Ancken start with a Pharoah whose life ended at 19, laboring to conjure enough story to fill in the rest.
That framework (sort of an upside-down pyramid, really) by necessity turns “Tut” into a kind of murder mystery, with nights one and two laying out a web of relationships that might explain who or what killed the young king, earnestly played by Avan Jogia. The suspects include the aforementioned vizier Ay, whose loyalty is balanced against his ambition; Tut’s half-sister Ankhe (“Tyrant’s” Sibylla Deen), whom he was compelled to marry at age 9, when he became Pharoah; Amun (Alexander Siddig), the High Priest, who frets about Tut’s questionable devotion to the gods; and Gen. Horemheb (Nonso Anozie), whose martial ambitions are curbed by Tut’s more level-headed approach to foreign affairs.
In Tut’s corner, meanwhile, sit the loyal soldier Lagus (Iddo Goldberg) and the beautiful Suhad (Kylie Bunbury, also currently trapped “Under the Dome”), who instantly wins the Pharoah’s affection, and helps nurse him back to health after a military excursion leaves the world thinking he’s dead.
Night one, alas, is filled with so much silliness that it’s difficult for the story to recover its bearings. And even with some solid performances, toga-shedding sex and power-mad scheming, some of the more dramatic interludes – such as a second-night plague that sweeps the city – feel like just killing time, while reminding us that the healthcare system circa 1323 B.C. had its flaws.
Since most people’s knowledge of Tut is limited to about three words – tomb, artifacts, Egypt, plus perhaps a few lines of Steve Martin’s song – the producers use that license to infuse the project with epic qualities, including a turf war with the Mitanni, a nearby people intent on overrunning Egypt. But beyond a few computer-enhanced shots meant to create the illusion of scope, this was clearly produced on a level that won’t prompt anyone to confuse it with “Game of Thrones,” despite the fact that jockeying to sit on Tut’s throne is very much at the heart of matter.
One thing’s for certain: This is Tut as you’ve never seen him before (heck, nobody has), a warrior king who leads his men into battle and endures serious wounds – at least, you know, for a while.
Taken strictly on its own terms, “Tut” has a florid quality that can be intermittently fun, in a campy sort of way. That said, the script doesn’t withstand much scrutiny, placing a great deal of emphasis on Tut’s legacy, when in fact he’s remembered not for what he did but rather what he had – and indeed, the mere fact somebody happened to find it.
Tut lives on in the mind, in other words, thanks to the arbitrary discovery of his possessions, which makes investing him with these noble attributes kind of a laugh. And while this miniseries that appropriates the name isn’t bad to look at, it is, finally, pretty forgettable.