I stumbled by chance upon this TV series adaptation of the Umberto Eco famous novel (I thought I had read it, but, since I cannot remember anything about it, now I have doubt). I had seen, a long time ago, the movie adaptation with Sean Connery (and I have re-watched it just after seeing the series just for the fun of it!) and I was quite curious to see what it would look like as an eight-episode series (over six hours!)…
The story is set in 1327. Brother William of Baskerville (an English Franciscan, whose name alludes both to Sherlock Holmes and William of Ockham), followed by the young novice Adso of Melk (the son of a German Lord), reaches an isolated Benedictine abbey in the Alps to participate in a debate between the Franciscan Order and the Avignon papacy about whether the Church should be poor as Christ was—a debate that would determine the very survival of the Franciscan Order. Upon arrival at the abbey the two find themselves caught up in a chain of mysterious deaths. William, a medieval sleuth, must untangle this knot of suspects (any of the multiple factions in the abbey, including a group of Heretics hiding amongst the Benedictines)—before the Dominican papal Inquisitor Bernardo Gui burn anyone at the stake—in order to solve the mystery that seems linked to the fabulous Abbey’s library and a coveted rare book!
The TV series is an Italo-German co-production, created, co-written and directed by Giacomo Battiato, starring John Turturro (William), Rupert Everett (Bernardo), Damian Hardung (Adso), Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Remigio), Greta Scarano (Margherita / Anna), Richard Sammel (Malachia), Tchéky Karyo (Pope John XXII), James Cosmo (Jorge) and Michael Emerson (the Abbot). It doesn’t have the star power of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s movie (Sean Connery, F. Murray Abraham, Christian Slater, Michael Lonsdale, Ron Perlman) but still offers many known actors. Strangely, despite being shot in Rome’s Cinecittà Studios, the movie was filmed in English. It aired on RAI in Italy, on BBC in the U.K. and on Sundance TV in the U.S.
While the movie focuses on the heart of the mystery (the murders and the book), the TV series has ample time to develop around the multiple elements that the movie left out: how William and Adso met, who are the Dulcinian heretics, the Inquisition’s past of William, the particular and what’s at stake in the debate between the papacy and the Franciscan, who is the peasant girl that Adso meets and falls in love with.
Although I liked the movie a lot because of its multiple charms and its great photography, the TV series is a very good production that seems more faithful to the book — and it offers more plot and action. It is a beautiful, very interesting historical drama (I can only dream of all those old books!) which will hopefully soon stream online (possibly on Amazon Prime) so it will be more readily available. I enjoy it and recommend it to all aficionados of medieval history, rare books and mystery novels.
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