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Review: History’s ‘Knightfall’ will please fans of epic history, popular culture

Sometimes a Templar Knight dies in your field and you have to return his master sword to the temple in Paris, because God's kingdom depends on it.

All that happens to Parsifal (Bobby Shofield) in the first episode of History's new period drama Knightfall. The series is an attempt to gain some of the same traction as Vikings, but instead of 9th century viking raiders, Knightfall explores the final years of the Knights Templar before their demise on Friday the 13th, 1307.

While the 10-episode series puts a magnifying lense to a fascinating historical moment and gets much of the actual history right, Knightfall often comes off a bit generic.

The show starts in 1291 during the last days of the Siege of Acre, which resulted in the loss of the Crusader-controlled city and the loss of the Holy Grail. The truth behind the cup that Jesus drank from during the Last Supper lies somewhere between fictional legend and historical fact.

The series from creators Don Handfield (The Founder) and Richard Rayner, along with executive producer Jeremy Renner (Arrival, Avengers), embraces the latter.  A scene of Templar Knight Landry (Tom Cullen) and his fellow knights shows them attempting to save the grail from the falling Acre before losing it at sea.

Flash forward to 1306 and Landry and his crusaders are in Paris growing restless about their importance in society. Landry offers fighting lessons to King Philip IV (Ed Stoppard) and more intimate lessons to his wife Queen Joan (Olivia Ross). So much for those vows of chastity, amirite?

The future of the country rests on the arranged marriage of Princess Isabella (Sabrina Bartlett), who has fallen hard for the crown prince of Catalonia, but her father sees a better fit with England's Edward II. Historical spoiler: she ends up with Edward.

But in Knightfall, Philip consults with Pope Boniface VIII (Jim Carter) for his input and blessing on Isabella's future union. This mixing of church and state worries Philip's scheming adviser William de Nogaret (Julian Ovenden), who provides an interesting court conspiracy.

Meanwhile, the Templar Knights are basically bored without any crusades. Don't worry, tragedy strikes and starts to slowly weave together the stories of the grail, the royals, the pope and the knights and leading Landry down a mysterious path.

In between all this political-religious wheeling and dealing are generic fight sequences sprinkled with climactic endings of various people getting swords or crucifixes stabbed through their throats. There's also a bit of 14th century light projection and subtle Easter eggs that make you remember that many stories in popular culture draw on the tale of the Knights Templar (Star Wars, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Davinci Code, our superstitions over Friday the 13th).

Knightfall makes a solid addition to History's budding lineup of epic period dramas. It seems to hit that sweet spot between sprawling historical account and intriguing narrative with its mix of (for the most part) accuracy, mystery and scandal.

It may not wow as much as Vikings has — at least not yet. But it has all the right pieces to.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.

Watch

Knightfall

10 p.m. Dec. 6, History

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