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Juicy, historical drama Knightfall set to premiere

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Hatfields & McCoys, Sons of Liberty, Vikings -- the History Channel is rapidly becoming the go-to location for original scripted drama for those who enjoy lots of costumes and gritty historical tales.

Into the mix comes Knightfall, premiering at 9 p.m. Wednesday following Vikings. It's sure to please those who like their heroes -- in this case, the Knights Templar -- wearing chain mail, swinging swords and covered in blood.

Here's some historical background.

Think of the Knights Templar as medieval mercenaries for Jesus -- or perhaps God's holy warriors who began life as bodyguards for Christian pilgrims headed to Jerusalem.

The Knights Templar was a Catholic military order founded in 1119 and active from around 1129 to 1312, when they were officially disbanded by Pope Clement V.

In its heyday, the order was among the most powerful, wealthy and secretive in Europe. Templar knights, in their white mantles with red crosses, were an elite fighting force during the Crusades. At its peak, the order numbered 15,000 to 20,000 members with about 10 percent being warrior knights.

The decline began after Jerusalem was recaptured by Muslim forces in 1187, leading to the Third Crusade when the Templars settled in the northern seaport city of Acre. Acre fell in 1291 and effectively ended the crusades to recapture the Holy Land. Subsequently, support for the Templars began to fade.

Contributing to the decline was that the Templars were beholden to no government and thus became an annoyance to European nobility. The end came on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307, (unlucky Friday the 13th) when King Philip IV of France ordered mass arrests of Templar leaders. Torture and execution -- usually burning at the stake -- followed.

That's the background for the History Channel's Knightfall, which picks up in Paris in 1306 toward the end of the Templars' long run.

When Acre fell, the Holy Grail was lost. But years later, a rumor spread that the Grail was still in the vicinity and Knightfall's action/adventure ensues, led by the noble and headstrong Templar Knight Landry (Tom Cullen, who played Tony Foyle, Lady Mary's sometime suitor in Downton Abbey).

Joining him on his quest are Templar knights Tancrede (Simon Merrells, Spartacus: War of the Damned) and the former mighty swordsman now crippled Gawain (Padraic Delaney, The Tudors).

Along the way, the trio encounter political intrigue, lust, love, greed, faith, sacrifice and revenge -- all the component parts of a juicy historical drama.

I've seen three tense episodes, and they quickly let viewers know they aren't on some sort of Monty Python Holy Grail misadventure.

Downton Abbey's Jim Carter (Carson the butler) portrays Pope Boniface VIII, "the Holy Leader of the Templar Knights and a stabilizing, incorruptible force within a chaotic medieval world."

Ed Stoppard (The Crown) plays powerful King Philip IV of France who seeks to consolidate his power at the expense of the Templars.

Julian Ovenden (another Lady Mary suitor in Downton Abbey) turns in a memorable performance as William De Nogaret, Philip's lawyer and scheming counselor.

There will be 10 episodes in the first season. They're rated TV-14 for violence.

Death sentence. CBS has declined to order more episodes of Jeremy Piven's freshman drama Wisdom of the Crowd. The ratings have been below network expectations and barring a miracle, that means the series will quietly fade away after 13 episodes.

Life sentence. Meanwhile, NBC has renewed The Good Place for a third season of 13 episodes. The series stars Kristen Bell and honorary Arkansan Ted Danson. Season 2 returns from winter break Jan. 4.

Heaven help us. In its wisdom, MTV is bringing back the vapid original cast of the puerile 2009-2012 reality series Jersey Shore.

The reboot, titled Jersey Shore Family Vacation, has no premiere date, but will once again inflict upon us Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Jenni "JWoww" Farley, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, Deena Nicole Cortese, Paul "Pauly D" Delvecchio, Vinny Guadagnino and Ronnie Ortiz-Magro.

Leaving series. I get frequent email asking why an actor left a series and it's sometimes a mystery. Not this time. Meghan Markle, who plays Rachel Zane on USA's legal drama Suits, is leaving at the end of the season because she's marrying Britain's Prince Harry in May. Good reason.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

mstorey@arkansasonline.com

Style on 12/05/2017

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