Knights in Not So Shiny Armor
You’d be forgiven if you forgot or didn’t even know that this show was still ongoing. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for me binge watching Netflix’s The Last Kingdom I would have no clue about it either.
Knightfall is a TV series from History with Jeremy Renner coming on as a producer for the series. It focuses on the exploits of Landry De Louzan, a Knights Templar in medieval Paris. When he uncovers a conspiracy involving the disappearance of the Holy Grail he finds himself surrounded by enemies.
What makes this series so compelling? Read on to find why we consider this one of the BEST TV series we’ve binged in a while.
Story – Mystery, History and Violent Tendencies
When it comes to Knightfall’s story, there seems to be not much at surface value. It involves Templars, kings, popes, citizens etc all trying to achieve various goals. At the center of it all is the desire for power and recognition.
But, this isn’t’ a story about how power corrupts. Rather, it’s a story about how anyone can find resolution and forgiveness among atrocities. People in this show do increasingly horrible things to other people, all while spouting that they’re righteous for doing so.
And that’s where this show finds its heart. Religion does not equal automatic justifications for horrible acts, but it can be a road to redemption. Where this show differs from others with this same story is how it presents the journey to forgiveness.
The series is not anti religion, you could make the argument that it is actually pro religion. However, it is pro religion in a sense of progressive thinking and acceptance of your faults. It’s a refreshing look to see a series that does not try to be edgy and tell an anti-religious story, because there are plenty of them. You also have to realize that this story is set in a time period where religion was far more prevalent. It makes more sense to have these characters follow the guidelines, and it’s accurate to the period.
Characters – New and Old talents
This story would be nothing if the actors were not good at what they do. Luckily, these are some of the finest performances in a Historical Drama in quite some time.
Tom Cullen, who plays Landry, is particularly well cast. He’s vocally rash, physically intimidating and emotionally fractured. And Cullen sells it every time. You really do believe that Cullen is a Templar struggling to accept his place in the world and living with the choices that he’s made.
It also helps that Cullen is not afraid to get dirty to show his character’s strength. Seriously, Landry gets beat the hell up in this show over and over again.
Ed Stoppard as King Phillip is also a phenomenal cast. He’s equal parts tortured emotionally and completely maniacal. A misogynist but also a loving father, a psychopath but also a benevolent king. Stoppard sells the powder keg character with grace and wit.
Supporting cast are also great in this show. Rounding out the characters of Landry and Phillip with different personalities and ways of seeing the world. If I had to say one actor who seems out of place, it would be Mark Hamill’s Talus.
Not that Mark Hamill is a bad actor, he just uses his Joker voice throughout the whole series and it gets really old.
Action – Blood is Never Rare Here
Fight choreography and editing in this show is absolutely stellar. At times it feels very much like Netflix’s The King, with minimal cuts and heavy hitting swords. Other times it’s a little more stylized for effect.
What separates Knightfall from series like Vikings, The Last Kingdom or Frontier is just how unrelenting brutal it is. Blood flows like a sieve through arteries and stab wounds. Bones protrude from brutal hacks. Characters’ heads are caved in from clubs. And in one of the series best moments, a character has his teeth broken and throat punctured by a large crucifix.
Honestly, it may sound like this series is a gore fest, but it really isn’t. It somehow feels real and dangerously close to how medieval warfare played out. Relentless, heavy, brutal and physically draining. By the midpoint of each fight, everyone is slow, lumbering and out of breath. Weighed down by heavy armor and massive weaponry.
One thing I especially love about this series is that there are no massive army vs army battles. There is a large scale fight at the finale of both seasons, but the forces on both sides are maybe 100 men strong. This isn’t Kingdom of Heaven, you don’t get lost in the shuffle.
We know where everyone is at every point in the battle. And it makes them surviving that much more believable and plausible. Every fight feels personal, because it is. Survival is what matters most.
Cinematography – Gorgeous Shots are Plentiful
You thought I was gonna miss mentioning my favorite category when it comes to movies and shows? Perish the thought!
Knightfall has some truly exceptional cinematography among TV series. In particular, other historical drama/action series fall short of some of the shots in Knightfall.
Something that they do, which is very intelligent, is never quite using a lot of large sweeping shots. There’s no need to see the whole city, you just need to know where the characters are. Which also leads into a big part of why the cinematography works so well, art direction.
Costumes, set designs, buildings, weapons etc. All of them are exquisitely crafted and convincingly portrayed. You do feel like you’re experiencing medieval Paris.
Only time I would say that the cinematography falls short is in the first few episodes. There’s some aerial shots of the medieval Middle East with some truly awful CG. Luckily these moments are short and soon left behind, but they are pretty bad.
Historical TV shows are not really a rare thing to find, it’s just rare to find ones that do not fall into melodrama.
I love The Last Kingdom, but it occasionally falls into the problem of being incredibly soapy and long. Vikings will sometimes focus on characters that do nothing to make you enjoy their screen time. Frontier is full of uninteresting characters with far too modern problems.
Turn is an enjoyable romp through colonial America but fails to capitalize in interesting ways.
My point being, it’s rare to find a historical TV series that actually manages to balance history, drama, action and plot. Usually they get too focused on one element and rely on the charisma of the leads to convince people to keep watching.
Knightfall is a rare example of a show managing all four and having charismatic leads.