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John Turturro Shines in 'The Name of the Rose,' a Dark Tale of Religion in Medieval Times
May 23, 2019  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment
 

Almost four decades after the publication of Umberto Eco’s revered and dark novel The Name of the Rose, someone finally took a deep breath and adapted it for a television miniseries.

It’s bold and ambitious, and it mostly works, thanks in no small measure to the brilliant move of casting John Turturro (top) in the lead role.

Giacomo Battiato created, wrote and directed the eight-episode TV version, a joint German-Italian production that aired in Europe in March and has its U.S. premiere Thursday at 10 p.m. ET on Sundance.

The Name of the Rose is set in 1327 in an isolated Benedictine abbey where the monks seemingly live quiet lives painstakingly creating beautiful books and illustrations. The abbey justly has a reputation for one of the world’s great libraries, though alas, that library also holds troubling secrets.

Turturro plays William of Baskerville, a monk sent to the abbey as a sort of investigator and potential mediator. Seems the reigning Pope, John XXII, wants to rid the world of heretics, and William has been charged with helping to sort out which suspects should or should not be burned at the stake.

Before he begins his days-long walk to the abbey, which sits in the cold Alps of Northern Italy, William is joined by the teenage novice Adso of Melk (Damian Hardung, top), who becomes his sidekick in a drama that quickly escalates beyond mere suspicions of heresy.

When they arrive at the abbey, Abbot Abo of Fossanova (Michael Emerson, below) pretends to cooperate in a cordial manner while clearly following some squirrely agenda of evasion.

Abo has a hard time acting as if all is normal, however, because William and Adso arrive just as a monk has been found dead at the base of a tall tower.  Another death soon follows. When William suspects some answers or clues may be found in the library and asks permission for access, Abo tells him no.  

Only Malachi of Hildesheim (Richard Sammel), the librarian, can grant access, and he never does. The reason, Abo explains, is that the library has some sort of demonic haunting. People who would venture there tend to get lost and never come out.

If this sounds like the plot of Halloween XXII, Eco and Battiato make it a little more nuanced than that. Not surprisingly, William, and to a lesser extent Adso, gradually pick up some somber secrets as they poke around talking to various monks who knew the victims and also know small pieces of the abbey’s larger puzzles.

While the abbey itself holds a strange fascination, The Name of the Rose doesn’t rely on sweeping Alpine scenery. It’s much more a mystery and character drama, with the conversation among the monks and others conducted in a style that often feels less stilted than television’s standard 14th-century representation.

In fact, it would not be hard to airlift this story to the 21st-century and, with a few adjustments like rethinking the burning at the stake part, making it a contemporary tale of an epic struggle within a powerful religious institution.

That is to say, Battiato has made Eco’s story relatable while retaining its basic elements and storyline. While it’s narrated by Adso as an old man looking back on a flashpoint in his life and his century, Turturro’s William is the one who makes us want to see what happens next.

William is very smart but doesn’t know everything. He’s aware how theological bureaucracies operate, but he knows a few workarounds. He doesn’t know as much as we viewers know, and he’s driven by the fact that he won’t complete his job until he does.

The Name of the Rose has sold some 50 million books because it’s a well-told story. While the TV version can’t capture everything, it tells the story pretty well.

 
 
 
 
 
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1 Comments
 
 
r
No comparison to Sean Connery's '86 movie?
May 23, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
 
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