TV Review: "TUT" Brings Egyptian Boy King Back to Life

Directed by:

David Von Ancken

Written by:

Michael Vickerman, Peter Paige & Bradley Bredeweg

Cast:

Ben Kingsley (Ay)

Avan Jogia (King Tut)

Sibylla Deen (Ankhe)

Alexander Siddig (Amun)

Kylie Bunbury (Suhad)

Peter Gadiot (Ka)

Iddo Goldberg (Lagus)

And Nonso Anozie (General Horemheb)

Synopsis (Spike TV): Thrust into power after the murder of his father, Tutankhamun (King Tut) is forced to marry his strong willed, ambitious sister in order to maintain the dynasty. In love with a commoner, he struggles to protect her from the jealous queen.  And although Tut rules as Pharaoh, he is exploited by a shrewd Grand Vizier, a ruthless military General and a scheming High Priest who look down on him as someone they can control.  But through unexpected twists and turns, Tut strives to overcome the odds, rising from a manipulated prince into an unlikely hero who triumphs over his enemies both from within and without leading his kingdom to glory.

My review: I’ve been excited for TUT for what seems like two years now, ever since the project was first announced. I love ancient Egypt, and I’ve been waiting on someone to give the world of that time its proper due on the big screen, especially after FOX’s Hieroglyph was cancelled before it even aired its pilot episode.

I was going to watch and review/recap TUT anyway, but I was bowled over when Spike reached out to me to offer me a lavish press kit, complete with a review copy. I’m extremely excited to say that the miniseries is everything I thought it could be and filled with tons of things I didn’t even know I wanted. In short, Spike has a success on its hands.

In an effort to be concise, I’ll break down my thoughts into a few succinct sections.

Acting: The acting in this event series is feature film quality. That’s not to say that television acting is somehow lower than film, but sometimes, television acting can have that “television” veneer to it. There are certain audience or acting beats in TV that aren’t usually found in film. Tut has nothing even resembling a TV series; in fact, each part of the three-part series is about as long as a feature-length film (roughly 2 hours with commercials, about 1 hour 30 min. without).

Ben Kingsley is billed first because for obvious reasons (he’s an Academy Award winner, after all), but before I even get into Kingsley’s role as Tutankhamun’s adviser Ay, I have to commend Avan Jogia, who played Tutankhamun himself.

It’s really Jogia’s shoulders that the film rests on, and he plays the part of a boy maturing into a seasoned, slightly jaded king exceptionally well. Perhaps you slept on his talent when he was in ABC Family’s teen soap Twisted. Perhaps you didn’t watch Victorious because you’d grown out of Nickelodeon dramas. If you weren’t aware of Jogia’s talent before, Tut will show you that Jogia’s not someone who’s cut from the same tween star cloth as some of his other contemporaries. His capabilities for drama and action not only relay his maturity and awareness, but also show how ready he is for the movies. Movie studios: if you’re still doing those same outdated practices of casting only white actors because you think they’re the only ones capable of being thought of as a leading man, you’re doing everyone, including yourselves, a great disservice, since Jogia should be on every casting director’s “leading man” list.

Tut-Avan-Jogia-5

Now that that gushing is done, let’s get back to Kingsley. It does show how mature Jogia is that he can be toe-to-toe with someone like Kingsley and come off as Kingsley’s contemporary, not a kid who’s learning from a mentor. Conversely, it’s gracious of Kingsley provide Jogia with the same grace and respect he might give to a veteran actor co-star. Just as much as Jogia commands the audience’s attention as the quickly-maturing boy king by imbuing Tutankhamun with outgoing bravado, Kingsley demands the audience’s attention by portraying Ay with cautious carefulness and an undercurrent of seediness masked over with paternal gentility. Ay is formidable in that respect; he does genuinely care for Tutankhamun, but he also cares for his own power more and will do what he can to secure it while, to paraphrase Tut’s sister Ankhesenamun, insulating himself from being discovered as a crafty mastermind. I think both Kingsley and Jogia were able to work so well because, as it seems to me, they both found an understanding between themselves and their characters and were able to work seamlessly together in their scenes.

Sibylla Deen, who plays Ankhesenamun, is just as formidable and provocative as Tutankhamun and Ay. However, while both men have outward issues of male-dominated power to deal with, Ankhesenamun has the more challenging issue of dealing with a woman’s power in this male-dominated world. Ankhesenamun has tons of tragedy in this event series (and causes her own fair share of tragedy herself), and her personal traumas make her a very strong, yet very unfortunate and pitiable character. Despite the dirty deeds she ends up doing throughout the story, you still feel compassion for her because you can understand the reasoning behind her actions. All she wants to do is secure her place and uphold her family name. One of Deen’s strengths is showcasing raw human emotion combined with a sense of grace even in times of trouble. That ability serves her well when portraying Ankhesenamun’s particular brand of strife.

Kylie Bunbury is exciting as Suhad, the half-Mittani woman who becomes the love of Tutankhamun’s life. Bunbury and Jogia have excellent (and believable) chemistry—part of that might be because they were both on Twisted, in which they played love interests. Also, from what I’ve seen in the Instagram BTS pictures Jogia posted, the two also seem to be great friends off-screen. It’s great they are good friends, because the sex scenes they have to complete probably would have been a lot more awkward feeling after the fact. (That was a not-so-great segue to say that there are some sex scenes in this series event, as well as some upsetting death scenes, so keep that in mind.)

Apart from sex scenes though, Bunbury gives Suhad the strength of character to be able to stand up to Tutankhamun’s force of nature. She truly compliments him in both temperament  and smarts. She’s highly deserving of being called Tutankhamun’s queen.

Nonso Anozie also shines as General Horemheb. The general goes from foe to friend over the course of three nights, and the journey is one that’s fun to take, even when it feels like Horemheb’s life could end. Anozie has been making the rounds in American television with Dracula and Game of Thrones, but now it seems like America really has caught on to Anozie’s dramatic talents. I hope we’ll get to see more of him in even more productions.

 

The other members of the cast also seem to give their all in their portrayals; Alexander Siddig is deliciously sinister as High Priest Amun, Iddo Goldberg is charming as Tut’s loyal military friend Lagus, and Peter Gadiot gives the vibe of an everyman caught in an extremely unfortunate situation as Tut’s friend and swordsman Ka. (Ka’s unfortunate situation: being in love with Ankhe, who’s married to Tut due to her royal duty to keep the bloodline pure).

Story: There is always the threat of a show this big in scope to peter out or leave something unattended to. For the most part, Tut covers every plotpoint and wraps most of them up in a satisfying, if sometimes heart-wrenching, way. It kept me riveted for each of the three episodes; it’s a good show if I end up talking to the TV in an attempt to tell the characters who to trust or what to do.

If there’s any downfall in the story, it’s that the storyline with Ay and his son Nahkt. I was never quite sure who Nahkt was actually related to, since he technically wasn’t Ay’s son. At first, I thought he was a boy we meet at the very beginning of the series; if they had made Nahkt the older version of that boy, I think his story—and his negative feelings towards Ay—would have been a lot stronger. As it was, it was rather muddied. Even still, Kingsley and Alistair Toovey, who played Nahkt, did well with what they were given, and Toovey really embodied his role of a boy trying to learn how to get ahead from his father, yet resenting the lessons at every turn.

Also, I was expecting more concerning Suhad’s place in Egyptian royalty. It was hinted that Suhad would face severe discrimination because she is half Mittani (the Mittani being the enemies of Egypt at this time), and while there were a couple of shady lines thrown here and there, Suhad herself never said anything about it. Perhaps, like what happens in real life when you’re faced with discrimination you weren’t expecting, she was too stunned to say anything. But I wish she had said something. Even better, it would have been great if she had said something and for Tutankhamun to back her up. Tutankhamun does do a little to show that he doesn’t think of her as “the enemy,” but I wish he had have checked Ay and Ankhesenamun when they made sideways comments. However, it’s also intriguing that he doesn’t say a lot about it, since it shows how ingrained his own prejudices might be. There could have been some interesting moments if these elements of this subplot were explored.

Casting: You’re probably wondering what this section’s about. If you’ve read COLOR in the past, you’ll know that I abhor films like Exodus: Gods and Kings and Noah because of whitewashing. Films that are set in either ancient Egyptian or biblical times are some of the films Hollywood loves to whitewash the most. I give some reasons as to why I think that is, but just a quick summation: Hollywood is still behind the times when it comes to casting. It still acts as if it’s still in the golden age of Hollywood, when a large majority of America was white and wanted to see only white faces instead of the diversity that existed around them in America and in the world (something Comics Alliance’s Andrew Wheeler points out in his takedown of the comic book movie and racial diversity).

Tut does an exceptional job at casting people who aren’t white. I know some people have said they feel the casting should have been of darker people. To that criticism, I say, “I understand.” But from my point of view, Tut gives us a vision of Egypt that’s closer to the truth than Exodus and other films like it have ever done. I’m extremely proud of how Tut decided to cast against Hollywood “business-as-usual” methodology. More than likely, I’ll have posts about this later, but for now, here’s my handclap for Tut‘s casting department.

Overall thoughts: Overall, I loved the series and to be honest, the series has legs enough to be turned into a full-fledged season-long series if Spike wanted to create a spin-off. The writing was strong, the acting stellar, and the whole experience (including the sets and costuming) created for a very satisfying viewing experience. I give Tut full marks.

Tut comes to Spike this Sunday, July 19, at 9/8c. Share your comments about Tut in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow COLOR on Facebook and Twitter!

Photo credit: Jan Thijs/SPIKE