By Paula Hendrickson
Anyone who watches History has probably heard about the Knights Templar at one point or another. The mysterious Christian military order was initially created to offer religious pilgrims safe—or at least safer—travel to and from the Holy Lands and later established a network of banks, but are perhaps best known for their role in the brutal battles of The Crusades.
There have long been theories that the Knights Templar were also charged with guarding the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Shroud of Turin. The fact that historians have yet to find evidence confirming any of those beliefs only seems to magnify the mystery of the order.
History’s new 10-part drama series, Knightfall, aims to explore the clandestine order and offer a glimpse at the people behind it, from the Pope and kings to the warriors themselves.
Every effort was made to make Knightfall as authentic as possible, according to Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey) who stars as Landry, a devoted knight focused on finding and protecting the Holy Grail.
“With a historical piece like this, I believe you owe a lot to the history itself, so I buried myself in research and read as many books about the period as I could, and I watched as many documentaries,” Cullen says. “We had a really fantastic historian, Dan Jones. He was every step of the way with us in terms of filming. I just bathed myself in as much information as I could about that period of time. I feel like you have a duty to history to do that, otherwise, you’re kind of wading through the dark. In order to make it authentic, it has to be in every fiber of you.”
While other series and films set in the Middle Ages might dress their stars in lightweight plastic chainmail, Cullen and his castmates wore real chainmail and thick muslin tunics. He says the full costume weighed approximately a quarter of his body weight.
The heaviness of the costumes changed the way actors moved—before production started the actors even trained while wearing the chainmail so they’d get used to the extra effort required to perform the simplest of movements. Cullen says that provides subtle details that make Knightfall feels as realistic as possible.
While the physical demands were daunting, Cullen says he found the emotional depth of the storyline to be challenging in another way.
“In a show like this it’s very easy to concentrate on the big battles and fighting and the masculinity of it, but at the center of the show are really complex relationships and complex characters who are really put through the mill. Landry, my character, is thrown through this really tough journey over the 10 episodes, and in every single episode he gets thrown and beaten around—not only physically, but emotionally. To do those scripts justice, and that journey justice, was the toughest thing for me.” R.
Knightfall premieres 9 p.m. Wednesday on History.