×

TV Review: ‘The Dovekeepers’

With:
Cote de Pablo, Rachel Brosnahan, Kathryn Prescott, Diego Boneta, Mido Hamada, Sam Hazeldine, Jonas Armstrong, Luke Roberts, Diarmaid Murtagh, Sam Neill

Designed to play as a moving adaptation of Alice Hoffman’s bestseller, “The Dovekeepers” is more of a wounded duck. Similar in tone to Lifetime’s “The Red Tent” by entering into such a story from a female perspective, the entire first half of this two-part miniseries essentially feels like an extended preamble to night two, which closes on a sobering note but proves dramatically flaccid until then. Producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey have made a splashy migration into scripted epics with “The Bible” and NBC’s sequel “A.D.,” but anyone who can endure this with their wits is a true survivor.

Granted, it’s been a generation since the 1981 miniseries “Masada,” but assuming it’s available somewhere, going back and watching that splendid pairing of Peter O’Toole and Peter Strauss is an infinitely preferable prospect.

As is, “Dovekeepers” should be most notable to fans of “NCIS” by offering a chance to see Cote de Pablo in a different setting, although before it’s over, the body count in this tale of ancient Israel will be at a level that would occupy her former colleagues for years.

For those fuzzy on the history, Masada was the mountain stronghold where 900 rebellious, vastly outnumbered Jews held off a Roman legion in 70 C.E., before eventually being overrun and meeting a tragic end. The conceit behind Hoffman’s novel was to tell that story through the eyes of several women involved, offering ample opportunity for sex and violence along the way.

In this four-hour adaptation, the entire story is related in flashback by de Pablo’s Shirah, and the lover of the Jews’ leader, Eleazar Ben Ya’ir (Mido Hamada), who cunningly uses guerrilla tactics to keep the invaders at bay; and Yael (Rachel Brosnahan), who has her own woeful tale of misfortune, lost love and hopeless romance, including a relationship with a captured slave (Diarmaid Murtagh).

The two women are being interrogated on behalf of the Romans by the historian Josephus (Sam Neill), whose goal is to determine what happened and why.

As adapted by Ann Peacock and directed by Yves Simoneau, that device virtually saps most of the drama from the narrative, while seemingly relegating Neill to a role similar to Raymond Burr in “Godzilla,” where it feels like his contribution was tacked on after the fact, trying to help viewers follow along.

While there are plenty of concurrent threads — including Kathryn Prescott as Shirah’s warrior daughter, Aziza; and Sam Hazeldine as Flavius Silva, the ruthless leader of the invading Romans — those come across less as fully realized plots than half-baked time-wasters before the main event, when the Romans finally figure out a strategy to breach the seemingly impregnable fortress.

Those closing moments capture some of the romance that has surrounded the story of Masada, but having poorly established the characters even with the occasional Harlequin Romance-style grappling between Shirah and Eleazar, it’s simply too little, too late. And even a fine cast struggles with stilted dialogue like, “You are but a hollow reed blowing in the Roman wind.”

The broadcast networks should be applauded (and even encouraged) for bringing the miniseries back from the brink of extinction and again embracing epic storytelling. But watching “The Dovekeepers” fail to take off merely underscores the difference between anteing up for togas and to lens in Malta and actually producing something with genuine heft.

TV Review: 'The Dovekeepers'

(Miniseries; CBS, Tue.-Wed. March 31-April 1, 9 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in Malta by LightWorkers Media in association with CBS Television Studios.

Crew: Executive producers, Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, Frank Siracusa, John Weber, Yves Simoneau; co-executive producer, Ann Peacock; line producer, Malcolm Scerri-Ferrante; director, Simoneau; writer, Peacock; based on the novel by Alice Hoffman; camera, Guy Dufaux; production designer, Giles Masters; editors, Sylvain Lebel, Isabelle Malenfant; music, Jeff Beal; casting, Marc Hirschfeld, Suzanne Smith. 4 HOURS

Cast: Cote de Pablo, Rachel Brosnahan, Kathryn Prescott, Diego Boneta, Mido Hamada, Sam Hazeldine, Jonas Armstrong, Luke Roberts, Diarmaid Murtagh, Sam Neill

More TV

  • Whoopi Goldberg addresses the crowd while

    Inside World Pride's Opening Ceremony: An LGBTQ Celebration With a Tinge of Politics

    World Pride officially kicked off on Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. About 8,000 people packed into the arena for a three-hour show that began with Cyndi Lauper singing her hit “True Colors.” The performance ended with a gaggle of dancing drag queens who pranced alongside Lauper as she turned the train of [...]

  • Democratic presidential candidate Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth

    The Messy NBC Democratic Debate Proves the Need for a Tier System (Column)

    The opening night of the first debates of the 2020 Democratic Party primaries brought — even by the standards of such way-far-out confrontations between candidates for whom the election remains a far-off dream — vastly more empty drama than new information. But then, that may have been by design. NBC News’s organization of the debates, [...]

  • Max Wright Dead

    'Alf' Actor Max Wright Dies at 75

    Max Wright, best known for playing patriarch Willie Tanner on the sitcom “Alf,” died Wednesday. He was 75. Wright’s family confirmed his death to TMZ. The actor died in his home in Hermosa Beach, Calif., after years of battling cancer. Wright was diagnosed with Lymphona in 1995. Wright is most famous for his role as [...]

  • Greyson Chance -Gabby Barrett Alejandro Aranda

    Greyson Chance, 'Idol' Alums Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda Sign Major Label Deals

    Two “American Idol” alumni — Gabby Barrett and Alejandro Aranda — as well as viral star Greyson Chance all announced new major label recording contracts this week. Barrett, who finished in third place of the first season of the rebooted ABC version of “Idol,” has joined the roster of Warner Music Nashville. The singer had [...]

  • amazon-studios

    YouTube Head of Scripted Jon Wax in Talks to Join Amazon Studios

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming, Jon Wax, is in talks to join Amazon Studios, according to an individual with knowledge of the matter. Wax is said to be in discussions for head of genre programming at Amazon, a position held by Sharon Tal Yguado until recently. Variety reported on her exit in early May. The [...]

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    WGA Takes Aim at Endeavor IPO, Tells Members It Has 'Sufficient Funds' for Legal Battle

    The Writers Guild of America has gone to the Securities and Exchange Commission in its battle with Hollywood’s largest talent agencies over the issue of packaging fees and affiliated production. The guild sent a letter to William Hinman, director of the SEC’s corporate finance division, the guild accuses WME parent company Endeavor of misrepresenting the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content