By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Spike TV’s Tut is a hefty melodrama that puts Cleopatra (1963) to shame. When the last of the pharaohs was simply trying to preserve a world that would later be unseated by the Romans, so too did the young boy king try to restore order prior to the rule of his father, Akhenaten. To change from a polytheistic society to monotheism was not welcomed by everyone. The worship of the Aten was deemed too radical. Tutankhamun sought to restore an old world order so that many Egyptians living outside of Thebes would welcome him. But his rule was a short-lived one. He had an inner circle of people conspiring to unseat him for their own sordid reasons. Not all of them were concerned about their country’s spiritual identity and that’s the basis of this three-part mini-series. Their motivations lay nowhere near what historians have ruled through meticulous study of the mummy and stories told on this king’s tomb walls.
Ever since the discovery of his body in the 1940’s, fascination about what happened to this young pharaoh (played by Avan Jogia) during this reign has always been that of rampant speculation. The mini-series attempts to guess at what might have gone on. In its narrative, all the real life possibilities leading up to his death are consolidated. The Mitanni (located in Syria) are given a greater role and are made this series main aggressors. Although conflicts with other neighbouring countries are not fully recognized, this series acknowledges that Egypt is not the glorious empire it once was.
Other historical footnotes are tough to notice. Nearly every pharaoh that has reigned had cyclopean edifices to honour their accomplishments. In what does get recreated in this series are a few of Tut‘s military campaigns against the Mitanni. He wanted to further diplomatic relations but to see them fighting in the fictional reality is a liberty taken by the series producers that not everyone will approve of.
In this ‘alternative timeline,’ Tut had a mistress. Suhad (nicely played by Kylie Bunbury) exists to help continue the bloodline. As Egyptologists will know, Ankhesenamun (Sibylla Deen) did not bear her half-brother any children. They were stillborn. The subplot concerning these two women’s rivalry is very limited, and sadly its development is not as heated as some viewers may hope. Yes, pharaohs kept a harem and Rameses II had the largest to ensure having a successor. To show a Ankhesenamun feeling insecure feels out-of-place in this mini-series.
When there is not a lot of documented facts about this boy king’s life, series writers Michael Vickerman, Peter Paige, and Bradley Bredeweg certainly had plenty of hours to fill in suggesting what life is like during Tutankhamun’s reign. The costumes, set designs and props are wonderful to behold. They are a fitting tribute to show to people what temples and palaces may have looked like. When Tut is at odds with Amun, the High Priest (Alexander Siddig), the peeks into this secret world is welcomed. This religious figure is as slick as a used car salesman and when he’s trying to keep the cult of Aten alive, nobody is going to revert back to the days of polytheism. While two other figures are vying for control, neither Grand Vizer Ay (Ben Kingsley) or General Horemheb (Nonso Anozie) prove that they can manipulate their pharaoh fully. Kingsley’s role is like that of a subdued and patient count whereas Anozie is gruff and impatient. It’s no wonder Tut is confused in the first part of the series. After getting his first taste of battle, this young man finally learns not to trust everyone he once thought to be friends. He develops an attitude to make his father proud of, as seen in the introduction.
The amount of violence presented in this series is surprisingly gory. Heads roll and a few folks get impaled through the mouth. There’s even explosions that suggests the Egyptians discovered gunpowder. Historical inaccuracies aside, this series is an enjoyable look at a man who became king. Although his contributions to maintaining an empire was spoken of as achievements that can become legendary in the series, sadly what he did was wiped from the records. It’s like his reign and his father’s were insignificant. Ironically, his legacy is earned much later. In modern times, the discovery of his tomb reignited interest in a time far away and the fact it was not looted gave people a peek into what life was like.
Now if only some company can pick up the rights to Christian Jacq’s Ramses book saga, then just maybe some lessons can be learned in how to rule an empire that spanned decades. Between these well-known figures of Egyptian history, there’s still other kings and queens that can be given the cinema treatment. Hatshepsut anyone?
3½ Stars out of 5
There will be an encore performance on Saturday, July 25th on Spike TV. Check local listings for show times.