TV series review: The Name of the Rose
by Camillo De Marco
- The Italian-German co-production directed by Giacomo Battiato and starring John Turturro brings Umberto Eco’s best seller to the small screen more than 30 years after Jean-Jacques Annaud's film
Politics and religion. What could be more topical in the current climate of Islamic fundamentalism and European leaders scrambling to make it their mission to defend their steadfast Christian values? Cultural conflict and power struggles feature magnificently in Umberto Eco’s 1980s novel The Name of the Rose, which returns to the small screen today, more than thirty years after the success (in Europe, not in the USA) of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s film of the same name. And playing the Franciscan friar-cum-detective, Guglielmo da Baskerville – once played by Sean Connery – is the one and only John Turturro.
Directed by the veteran filmmaker Giacomo Battiato, The Name of the Rose is an Italian-German co-production that sees 11 Marzo Film, Palomar and Tele München Gruppe working in collaboration with RAI Fiction. The TV series is due to be broadcast as part of an series event over the course of four evenings on the Italian TV channel RAI 1, staring on Monday, 4 March. The series’ international distribution has been entrusted to TMG International, RAI Com and the BBC, among others, which has already acquired the rights for the United Kingdom.
Cineuropa has seen the first episode, which opens with a bloody medieval battle. But the real action in this rich gothic thriller – set in Northern Italy in the year 1327 – lies mainly in the sophisticated brain of its protagonist, flanked by the young novice Adso da Melk (Damian Hardung). The pleasure of watching this new series adaptation lies in the succession of twists and turns, skilfully captured on camera by the Irish photographer John Conroy and in the international cast’s excellent performances. Indeed, it wouldn’t really make much sense to compare the TV series to the 1986 film, given that this new version’s serial dimension allows the plot to take the necessary time to develop the encyclopaedic complexity of Eco’s literary masterpiece, which went on to sell 55 million copies worldwide, with a style that will hopefully also attract a younger audience. Andrea Porporati, who worked on the plot, was in contact with Umberto Eco himself during the writing process. Eco granted the rights to RAI for the production, with whom he previously collaborated in order to improve the cultural level of Italian public broadcasts. The screenplay was written by Porporati, the director, the British Nigel Williams (author of the HBO series Catherine the Great, starring Helen Mirren and due to come out in 2019) and John Turturro, who wanted to participate directly in the writing of his character.
The versatile Brooklyn-born actor and director, much loved by Scorsese, the Coen Brothers and Woody Allen, injects a whole lot of nuance into Umberto Eco’s character, who had the ingenious idea to set a razor-sharp Sherlock Holmes tale back in the middle ages, in the heart of a lethal dispute in which Guglielmo must represent the Franciscan Order, supported by Ludovico di Baviera – the future Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, threatened by the temporal power of the French Pope John XXII. A former inquisitor, the friar arrives at a snowy abbey to find himself immediately unravelling a series of mysterious crimes that have fallen upon the labyrinthine and its inaccessible library, deciphering clues and the personalities of various believers and heretics, necromantic scriptures, plant symbolism and manuscripts in unknown languages, but he soon discovers that the hardest task of all will be juggling the diplomatic moves of men in power. In fact, the Franciscan will soon find himself opposed by the ruthless inquisitor Bernardo Gui, played by a convincing Rupert Everett, in a battle between intolerance and rationality. In addition to the surprising 20-year-old German actor Damian Hardung, the cast also stars Fabrizio Bentivoglio (Remigio), Greta Scarano (Anna), Richard Sammel, Stefano Fresi (Salvatore), Roberto Herlitzka (Alinardo), Antonia Fotaras, Sebastian Koch and Michael Emerson.
(Translated from Italian)
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