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The Final Journey of the Knights Templar in History’s ‘Knightfall’
December 6, 2017  | By David Hinckley

History’s new Medieval drama Knightfall scores points for enabling us to understand what’s going on.

A 10-part series that premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET, Knightfall traces the final chapter of the Knights Templar, an order of warrior monks formed to protect sacred Christian artifacts like the Holy Grail.

Founded early in the 12th century, they also protected pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land and developed a relatively sophisticated social and financial system within the order.

Knightfall, as both meanings of the title foretell, visits the order almost 200 years later, as fate is closing in.

The Holy Land has been lost, along with the Holy Grail, and the defeated Knights (left) have regrouped in Paris, where they have become more of a traditional monastic order.

This grates on their leader, Landry (Tom Cullen, top), whose ambitious dream agenda includes finding the Holy Grail and retaking the Holy Land. Or at least do something useful like protecting Paris’s persecuted Jews.

Other Knights aren’t so sure the time is right for the Holy Land invasion. But the Jewish question takes on some urgency when a Jewish man kills a Christian preaching anti-Semitism in the streets.

Most of Christian Paris suddenly turns into a mob demanding death to Jews, that all-too-common “solution” proposed in numerous cultures throughout history.

King Philip IV (Ed Stoppard, right) thinks Jews useful as doctors and bankers. He’s ill-inclined to challenge what seems to be the public will, however, so he decrees that all Jews must leave the city and, for their own protection, go into exile.

Jews don’t even get that much mercy from the king’s sleazy head advisor, Guillaume de Nogaret (Julian Ovenden), who thinks the answer to France’s financial woes is to take all money belonging to Jewish citizens.

The Knights are able to keep vigilantes from slaughtering the Jews on their march into exile, and in the process they pick up an interesting new friend, a combat-worthy young Jewish girl named Adelina (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina).

Her presence is welcome in a testosterone-driven drama.

Queen Joan (Olivia Ross) also provides some gender balance, and she emerges as a player in the show’s delicate diplomacy. So does Joan’s and Philip’s daughter Isabella (Sabrina Bartlett), who in the custom of the day is betrothed to a man who can strengthen France’s political and economic alliances.

Speaking of economics, we soon learn that Philip has been borrowing extensively from the Knights. As his debt has grown and he has not paid it back, their relationship becomes edgier.

The Knights have right and morality on their side. Philip has power. And we aren’t quite sure who has the Grail, which was last seen floating to the bottom of the Mediterranean Ocean and gently coming to rest on the soft sand.

Contentious points surrounding the Grail, the Jews, and the French financial situation are laid out coherently, allowing Knightfall also to weave in romantic subplots and a touch of mysticism.

One subplot has a young farmer named Parsifal asking to join the Knights so he can exact his own revenge on enemies who have done him a terrible wrong.

While we feel great sympathy for Parsifal, we also know he has lousy timing, considering what history tells us looms in the immediate future for the Knights.

But the path to that resolution is lined with the fierce battles and infuriating treachery and brave love stories that, when executed properly, create television adrenalin.

Knightfall has all that.

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