Tutankhamun: Episode 1
When I use the abbreviation AD, I am referring to a time ‘After Downton’. In the AD era of period drama, no stone in British history has been left unturned. From Thomas Cromwell to Selfridge’s department store, TV has it covered. On Sunday evenings, our sofas become time machines as we visit India, Paris and Buckingham Palace, but now we’ve arrived in Egypt. The coveted Sunday evening slot formerly occupied by Downton and later Victoria has been handed over to Tutankhamun. Max Irons (son of Jeremy) plays Howard Carter, an intrepid explorer determined to unearth the secrets that lay beneath the ancient city. He’s an actor whose sincerity in a role so badly written is almost pitiful.
Nothing really happened in the first episode – it was a prolonged introduction to the characterless cast of characters. In the first scene, we meet Carter, the arrogant and exceedingly posh archaeologist responsible for all the local “digs”. He minces about Egypt spouting posh-isms at the natives whilst the formulaic piano rendition of Clair de Lune reminds viewers that they are bored. There’s the typical ‘map in the sand’ scene in which the adventurer squats down to draw a map of the treasure in the sand with a stick – all very pedestrian. It isn’t until a fat, naked, archaic man emerges from a tomb covered head to toe in bat faeces that viewers give up on Tutankhamun; it really is shit.
I really did expect a saga of epic proportions with a budget worthy of Ridley Scott or Christopher Nolan. Instead, the sets of Tutankhamun looked like the new Chester Zoo expansion. Beige cloth hangs over beige wood to comprise beige tents inhabited by beige-wearing archaeologists dusted with beige sands from the infinite sea of beige that is the Sahara desert.
A steamy tale of mystery and intrigue was what I was promised. What did I get? A dusty rummage around a few rocks. Whoever said that archaeology couldn’t be sexy was right, and the premiere of ITV’s Tutankhamun only confirmed that sentiment. Where was the unabashed, cliché romance we all expected? Where was the scandal? The drama? The sexuality? Like many recent protagonists of period drama, Irons’ character is based on real-life. The fact that this is a ‘true story’ gives audiences an uppity reassurance in their own intellect. So perhaps that’s why armchair historians were furious at the fictitious nature of Carter’s fling with Lady Evelyn Herbert – it simply didn’t happen! How dare a period drama insult me with untrue erotica! If only that were the case; I was desperate for the reprieve of romance from the boredom of historical accuracy. I couldn’t care less whether Herbert and Carter actually snogged or not because, let’s be honest, a mere snog wasn’t enough to alleviate the tediousness of a drama centred around digging.
Tutankhamun continues next Sunday (23/10/16) at 9pm on ITV.