Building on their successful series of Vikings and Six, the History Channel debuts another original series focusing on another interesting time in history. Knightfall is a ten-episode original series focusing on the Knights Templar and their role in 14th century France.
The period of time that people are most familiar with in regards to the Knights Templar is the Crusades and their quest for the Holy Grail. We should all be familiar enough with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to have some knowledge about the Knights and the most important relic to Christendom. Unfortunately, Knightfall does not focus on the Crusades, but we are witness to the end of it as the Knights leave Acre by force and lose the Holy Grail to the sea (in 1291). Flash-forward fifteen years and this is where the meat of Knightfall begins.
The series mostly centers on Landry (Tom Cullen), one of the stronger Knights and most devoted to the cause. He trains King Phillip IV (Ed Stoppard) in swordplay as well as lending an ear to his majesty. He follows the Master of their Templar, Godfrey (Sam Hazeldine), until he is killed on a mysterious errand by highwaymen. It is his death and what he leaves behind that spurns the quest to find the once lost Holy Grail, as it is believed to be found once again. It also gives the opportunity to bring in a new character, a farmer named Parsifal (Bobby Schofield), as he tried in vain to save Godfrey. His naivety opens the door for a quest for revenge and then redemption as he trains to become a Knight.
In the first three episodes, we learn that Landry has lost some hope in the Knights Templar, and has succumbed to the sins of the flesh, namely the flesh of Queen Joan (Olivia Ross). Landry feels the cause is somewhat lost but is reinvigorated with the news of the found again Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the damage has been done in this tryst between the Queen and Landry.
As in the majority of stories involving royalty, the daughter of King Phillip IV and Queen Joan is used as a bargaining chip for peace and wealth. The choice is maneuvered between the King’s lawyer, William de Nogaret (Julian Ovenden), the Princess Isabella (Sabrina Bartlett) herself, and Pope Boniface VIII (Jim Carter). There is a delicate balance between France and England and Catalonia, and love is not the only thing to consider when making a marriage.
Don Handfield (The Throwaways) and Richard Rayner created the series and wrote at least the first two episodes. Dominic Minghella (Doc Martin, Robin Hood) steps in as the writer of the third episode. The issue with Knightfall is that nothing is new to this historical fiction genre. Other than the Knights Templar and the search for the Holy Grail, it so far has the same storylines of revenge, deceit, forbidden love, and politics as every other series. The show must make itself stand out from other similar series and three episodes into the series; it has not done that. The uniqueness of this series is the Knights Templar, and this is used as a background descriptor of some of the characters. The Knights Templar should be the focus, exploring their world, where they came from, and how they became a part of history.
The overall look and feel of Knightfall are appropriately rugged given the time period. The sets are okay but are missing some grandeur, especially the court of King Phillip IV. The King’s chapel grabs the most attention with the light filtering in through the massive stained-glass windows. The exterior shots surrounding Parsifal’s farm makes the viewer realize that countryside around the palace and the city is quite rural and beautiful. This is juxtaposed with the dirty, crowded streets surrounding the palace.
The CGI on the series is a bit off. The opening battle at Acre highlights the massiveness of the area as well as the opposition, but like all TV series that don’t have a massive budget (like Game of Thrones) the CGI backgrounds and scenes come close to realism, but the viewer can tell there is something not quite real about them. Hopefully, this series will not focus on sweeping battles and more on the personal battles of its main cast.
The viewers that love blood and guts will get their fill with Knightfall. The opening battle, as well as the death of Godfrey, highlight the high caliber of stunts and choreography of the series. They do not shy away from gruesome deaths or blood covering the characters post-fight, even exploring the cavity of a dead man and the cutting of throats are not off the table.
The expectations of Knightfall are high given the subject matter, the cast, and those behind the camera. The cast is a high point of the series, using both familiar faces and unknowns, and giving those known to us (Tom Cullen, Jim Carter) more material to work with to showcase their craft. What has befallen Knightfall three episodes into its ten-episode season is the adherence to the trials and tribulations of many other characters in the historical fiction genre. The unique element of Knightfall is the Knights Templar, and it is not used to its full capacity. The search for (or to find again) the Holy Grail is also a piece of the story that makes it stand out from others. The series should take its cue from the first season of Vikings and explore the culture of the Knights Templar rather than plot storylines we have seen and read before.