Spike’s entry into the historical figure-as-swaggering adventurer game with “Tut,” its telling of the coming of age of boy king Tutankhamun, succeeds in entertaining for a midsummer night — or three — provided the viewer doesn’t have his or her own kingdoms to conquer or coups to put down.
Ben Kingsley, as the king’s chief adviser Vizier Ay, makes spending sultry summer evenings indulging in a lush fictional telling of the travails and torments of the storied ruler of ancient Egypt’s 18th dynasty even sweeter. The Academy Award winner brings the gravitas and keeps the production grounded in drama.
The three-part, six-hour miniseries stars Avan Jogia as Tutankhamun, who at 19 in the miniseries, 10 years after taking the throne upon his father’s death, seeks to lead his people, truly rule and secure his legacy as a great king in the mold of his popular grandfather. But the young king is dismissed by his advisers as still a child.
If you can get past the creepy inbreeding, Tut and Ankhe are the era’s ultimate power couple — young, rich, beautiful, lethal. It’s a wonder Spike didn’t position “Tut” as an angst-filled teen drama. Kingsley steps in to ensure that doesn’t happen despite the production’s occasional seemingly period-inappropriate detail — jarring neon hair extensions and the like.
Without pursuing a degree in Egyptology at this late stage, let’s assume the “Tut” filmmakers took a few liberties with the bones of the pharaoh’s story for the sake of swashbuckling and join the creators of, for example, Starz’s “Da Vinci’s Demons” and Netflix’s “Marco Polo” in spicing up the details. (In truth, the king was sickly and disfigured and, it is thought, died of his various maladies before age 20.)
Thank Ridley Scott, Russell Crowe and “Gladiator” for kicking the trend off this century. Then go back and thank William Wyler, Charlton Heston and “Ben-Hur” for the time before that. You’ll hit William Shakespeare if you keep going.
“Tut” isn’t Shakespeare, but it doesn’t need to be, of course, for Spike’s purposes. Jogia’s Tut is restless, curious and spoiling for a fight now that he’s big enough to swing a sword. He’s got daddy issues driving his need to prove himself and a man-of-the-people streak that threatens to pull the actor into mawkish scene chewing, but Jogia refuses to fall into the trap, generally dispelling sticky sentimentality and preachiness with charm.
He is also, fortunately, surrounded by skilled actors Kingsley and Alexander Siddig as High Priest Amun. With Siddig’s role here as well as those in “Game of Thrones” as King Doran Martell, as mystical figure Al-Rahim in “Da Vinci’s Demons” and as King Minos in “Atlantis,” the actor has turned the charismatic, richly robed figure into his signature.
“Tut” also benefits from solid supporting performances by Nonso Anonzie (another “Game of Thrones” actor) as Tut’s adviser General Horemheb; Kylie Bunbury as the king’s beautiful peasant lover Suhad; Peter Gadiot as the best friend and betrayer, Ka; and Iddo Goldberg as Lagus, the loyal soldier/royal watchdog.
“Tut” was directed by David Von Ancken (“Hell on Wheels”), who also executive produced. The miniseries was written by executive producer Michael Vickerman, Peter Paige and Bradley Bredeweg with Chris Lavasseur as director of photography.
Episode 1 of “Tut” premieres on Spike on Sunday, July 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, while the next two episodes follow on Monday and Tuesday nights.