Starting tonight, HISTORY offers up another epic period drama. Instead of Vikings being the heart of the show, this new series takes on the Knights Templar. It’s called Knightfall and stars one of our favorite Downton Abbey alums, Tom Cullen, who plays Landry.
What You Need to Know
According to HISTORY, the Knights Templar was a large organization of devout Christians with a mission: to protect European travelers visiting sites in the Holy Land while also carrying out brave military operations. A wealthy, powerful and mysterious medieval order that has fascinated historians and the public for centuries, tales of the Knights Templar, their financial acumen, their military prowess and their work on behalf of Christianity still circulate throughout modern culture.
About the cast: Knightfall‘s cast is replete with historical figures, representing the most powerful forces in Medieval Europe.
In addition to Cullen, completing the cast is Jim Carter (Downton Abbey’s Carson) as Pope Boniface VIII, the Holy Leader of the Templar Knights and a stabilizing, incorruptible force within a chaotic medieval world
Olivia Ross (War and Peace) as Queen Joan of Navarre, wife to King Philip IV of France and a powerful Queen in her own right; a devoted mother, formidable diplomat and keen strategist.
Ed Stoppard (The Crown) as King Philip IV of France, the most powerful monarch in Europe who seeks to consolidate his power with the help of his Machiavellian right-hand man and pragmatic lawyer, William De Nogaret, played by Julian Ovenden (Downton Abbey).
Sabrina Bartlett (DaVinciâ€™s Demons) as Princess Isabella, Queen Joan and King Philip’s daughter who would come to dominate the Kingdom of England as the She-Wolf of France.
Series Synopsis: Knightfall begins after the fall of the city of Acre, the Templarâ€™s last stronghold in the Holy Land, where the Holy Grail is lost. Years later, a clue emerges suggesting the whereabouts of the Grail and sends the Templars, led by the noble, courageous and headstrong Templar Knight Landry (Tom Cullen), on a life or death mission to find the lost Cup of Christ. From their battles in the Holy Land, to their clash with the King of France, to the dark events leading to the demise of the Templar Order on Friday the 13th, 1307 â€”a date which became synonymous with bad luckâ€”the story of the Knights Templar has never been fully told until now.
In a recent press call, Tom Cullen told us what else you need to know about the show:
It’s more than “guys swinging swords”
Tom Cullen: The show is about politics. We have a lot of stuff that takes place in the French Court at the time, dissecting, and breaking down the politics and the machinations of political interplay, which I just love that kind of stuff.
And it has a fantastic central spine through the show; an amazing love story which I’m surprised at how strong and moving that story was as we were filming it. And it kind of grew into this thing that we had no idea it would become.
The show talks about revenge and betrayal, brotherhood, loyalty, faith, humanity and mortality. And I think that it raises really big questions about who we are whilst at the same time being really kind of fun and entertaining. So that takes you on a really wild journey.
Starring in a show about knights was in his DNA
Cullen: This is the kind of project Iâ€™ve always dreamt of being involved in ever since I was a little boy. I grew up in Wales and I grew up next to a castle. That kind of history is really woven into the fabric of my DNA like I think it is in many Europeanâ€™s DNA. And when I was a kid, my dad gave me this wooden sword and shield and I used to go up there with my mate and we just used to run around pretending to be knights and warriors.
And I think that the older we get the more baggage we carry and I know that I spent a lot of time pining after that kind of innocence. And so this job really opened up the gateway to accessing me as a kid again and it felt like every single day I had little Tom next to me swinging a wooden sword around with his mates in a castle in Wales. That was my favorite thing about the job; being able to have as much fun as I had while filming this show and I loved it.
As expected, rigorous fight training took place to prepare for battle scenes
Cullen: The stunt team that we had was led by an amazing Frenchman, CeÌdric Proust. He is a top stuntman and fight choreographer. He really put us through it and we had a great swordsman called Roman. The entire team wanted us to be at a very, very high level. So every day on set they would drill us and I did about three months of physical training beforehand to get myself and my body ready for the fighting portion of my character and the series.
We also did a two-and-a-half week boot camp where we would walk in the morning and do some circuit training and then do fighting in the afternoon. Later, weâ€™d go horse riding and do some more sword training and then we would go to the gym. When it came to the actual filming â€“ because there were a lot of fight scenes, I was filming 14 hours a day doing scene work and then I’d have to do my fight training either on my lunch breaks or on the weekends. Any kind of second in the day that I did have I would fill it by going up to the stables and ride.
Expect a massive battle in the finale of this ten-episode season
Cullen: There is an incredible battle sequence in the final episode which is the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved in. We had like 400 guys on a battlefield fighting for about two weeks. And it’s epic and amazing. And the real geek/nerd in me â€” because I am one â€” just can’t believe that Iâ€™m in it. Iâ€™m extremely proud of it.
His knights templar costume is heavy duty, emphasis on ‘heavy’
Cullen: Our costume designer, Diana Cilliers, was amazing. I remember the first time we did our screen test, which is where you put on the costume in front of camera and you kind of like pose and walk around, so they can see what it looks like on camera with the makeup and the hair and all of that kind of stuff. And I remember putting the costume on, the chainmail and everything, and it weighed 50 pounds which was like an insane amount of weight. And I struggled to walk down the corridor to get to the studio to do the screen test.
And I was like, ‘Guys, why is the costume so heavy. How are we supposed to move and fight in this?’ And the answer was that Diana tried out lighter material such as plastics and other materials but they just didn’t look authentic. And so they put us in the most authentic costume that they could and we just had to deal with it. And we got bigger and we got stronger, and so very quickly we were able to run and jump, get on horses in the 50-pound costumes and do everything that we needed to do to play our parts.
Taking on this experience terrified him
Cullen: There’s so much that scared me about this role. The size of it and the responsibility of playing a lead in a show as big as this, it was terrifying. But also just the physical and emotional commitment that was required to make this show work. If I wasn’t committed 100% to the show, it wouldn’t work. They really, really put me through it in the best way possible making sure I became the best Landry I could be. That was a terrifying challenge and terrifying to have to pull off.
I was learning new skills like horse riding and fighting. And the biggest thing that was terrifying for me was that â€” and this is something that I’ve been dealing with my entire life â€” I was doing something that I love. I read the script and I wanted it so badly because I thought it was so good. That really terrifies me. Doing something that you love and that you want is often the scariest thing that you can do because if you fail at it, thatâ€™s a big journey to go on.
Landry’s a complicated character who breaks one of the Templar’s biggest rules
Cullen: When we meet him, he is this very, very complex, pulled apart guy in Episode 1. He is battling with his humanity and he is secular yet he is also still mentally devout. He is very loyal to his brothers, his family, yet he is lying to them. He is having an affair with a woman yet he is a monk. He is the bravest, most fearless warrior yet he’s starting to feel a sense of his own mortality.
And I think thatâ€™s why he kind of falls in love with this woman. Itâ€™s not that he’s doubting God or that heâ€™s doubting the Templars or religion, but that he’s doubting himself. He is in a conflict, in a battle with himself, which are the stories that I love to watch where your hero is so full of contradiction and battle and personal complications. And throughout the first season, we see him work through that and battle through that and try and find out who he really is. And it’s an awesome journey for me to play and to take viewers on.
Knightfall is also a Downton Abbey reunion
Cullen: I was so happy to work with Jim Carter who plays Mr. Carson on Downton and Julian Ovenden who plays Charles Blake on Downton Abbey, because they are just unbelievable actors. And I think that the caliber that they have only reflects so well on Knightfall. The cast that we’ve assembled on Knightfall is one of the best that I’ve ever worked with. They are really amazing actors and amazing sponsors.
And to have someone like Jim Carter who is a multiple Emmy-nominated actor and the fact that he was so excited and hungry to do our show, I think is really a testament to the scripts of Knightfall. And we hope that everyone likes it as much as we do.
Women will enjoy Knightfall as much as the men
Cullen: I think that it is by no means a gendered show. I think that women would love it as much as men will love it and that is something I’m really proud of too. It has fantastic strong female characters. They are actually probably stronger than all of the male characters and they’re just as complex and rich as the male counterparts, and it’s very moving. I’ve watched the last episode three or four times now and I’ve shed many tears every single time. Itâ€™s a great rollercoaster.
Knightfall premieres tonight on HISTORY at 10/9c after Vikings.
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