Knightfall – Series Premiere Rant

I’m going to be upfront and honest about this.  My knowledge of history, and specifically of the Knights Templar, means that I can’t turn off my brain to enjoy this series.  I have been chomping at the bit for Knightfall, and they ran headlong into one of my biggest pet peeves of all time.  Why can TV and movie people not translate historical or even other fictional source material without screwing up something so fundamental that it undermines the very thing they’re trying to achieve?  WHY?!  I mean, I’m no expert, and I certainly don’t expect perfect accuracy, but how difficult is it to write the Templars somewhat close to on-model with how history records them to be?

Let me start from the beginning.  The series begins in 1291 at the Siege of Acre.  This is one of the most important battles in the Crusades, and it was a loss for the Crusaders.  The way the series portrays it, the city is lost as soon as the battle begins, so the Templars turn tail, gather the Holy Grail from its hiding place, and attempt to retreat so as to get the Grail to safety.  The Grail is lost at sea when one of the ships blows up.  Fast forward 15 years (1306).  The Templars who retreated and made it out safely are in Paris, where the lead character who survived the siege, the acting master of the Temple, is friends with the King of France, Philip.  The master of the Temple was killed by highwaymen, and his sword is taken back to the Temple by Percival, where a clue inside the pommel reveals the Grail to be in France.  Oh, and the acting master is apparently having an affair with Philip’s queen, Joan, after being reminded that the Templars took vows of chastity.  *face/palm*  So… losing the Grail and screwing the queen mean the Templars are on the countdown clock to their fates?

There is so much wrong with this that it makes me want to puke.  Let’s forget the Parsifal and Grail angle they’re playing up.  Let’s even forget about the Templar and his royal dalliance.  Templars retreating?  NO.  Not only no, but HELL no.  The Templars were infamous for their “no retreats” policy.  The way they operated, a Templar who turned his back on an enemy effectively turned his back on his brothers and on God himself.  It was effectively desertion, which was punishable by death because for a Templar it also meant heresy, a far bigger crime in the eyes of the Order.  This was burned into them from the moment they signed on.  That kind of fanaticism is part of what made them scary on the battlefield, part of what made them capable of turning back far larger armies the moment they showed up.  At the Siege of Acre, the Templars charged in to face the Mamluks head-on while the king of the city and the master of the Knights Hospitaller escaped with their lives.  The Templars were slaughtered to a man during that siege, and they didn’t go down without a fight that echoes into eternity.  But, no…  10 minutes into this series, I’m already pissed off.  The rest of this just plays into historical fantasy mode.  And the French king, Philip?  Also known to history as Philip the Fair… he was no friend of the Templars.  He’s the one who sealed their fates in 1307.  I figure that’s going to be part of the drama, how he turns on them.  Whatever.  I no longer care.

I will say this much.  I love the costuming, I rather enjoy the performances, and the overall production is rather beautiful.  It’s quite a sight to see a whole battalion of Templars charging down the road on horseback and full regalia.  It means nothing when they can’t get the characters right.  A retreating Templar ranks right up there with Batman using firearms and letting people die.  It ranks right up there with people calling Sherlock Holmes by his first name.  I realize if the Templars didn’t retreat in that opening scene, we’d have no lead characters to follow in this series.  Gee, maybe the writers should have picked a different starting spot.

At least Vikings is still fun.  It’s not very historically accurate either (how could it be when Ragnar was their lead character?), but the idea of the characters is right.  The proto-Templars they’ve got under Heahmund are far more convincing.

So much for Knightfall

4 thoughts on “Knightfall – Series Premiere Rant

  1. Yeah, this is why I often can’t enjoy a show like, oh, The Tudors (which has issues from an actor who refuses to gain weight to play Henry VIII, to consolidating the number of his sisters, etc., etc., etc.). I know too much. (And in this case, because I saw The Six Wives of Henry VIII, miles better in every regard except budget for sets, at a formative age.)

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    • I always wondered why they didn’t just pad him up or something. He makes a great Heahmund on Vikings though. But yeah, point taken. I think I enjoyed The Tudors more precisely because I was learning alongside that series, and I didn’t see any real characterization problems. Knightfall… Too late. Characterization has always been my sticking point.

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  2. Templars could and did retreat and surrender when outnumbered 3:1. Obviously they surrendered en masse to Saladin in the 2nd Crusade at Hattim.

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    • And if they’d told something like that here, it might be far more engaging with the proper buildup of a full season behind them showing the “never surrender” idea and what made that so different. This was just sloppy. 10 minutes into a series? They run, they fail… no reputation at all to build on. The rest just disintegrates into fantasy and soap opera. Not exactly the Templar epic I was hoping for.

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