I’m really frustrated! Thirty-five years ago I visited the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and walked into Tutankhamun’s burial vault. I’ve been trying to find the slides from that trip that I’ve been hauling around for thirty-five years to no avail! Of course, I’ve moved probably twenty times since then. I know they are somewhere stuffed in a closet, and I’m going to find them one way or another! Nevertheless…
My first Britbox watch – Tutankhamun from ITV – a four-part series about the discovery of the tomb in that vast dusty desert of the Valley of the Kings. It’s based on the archaeologist Howard Carter, played by Max Irons, who is convinced the valley still holds wonderful discoveries, while his peers are packing up and leaving out of frustration.
On the other hand, we have Lord Carnarvon, played by Sam Neill, who has the funds and enthusiasm to find a tomb filled with riches. If you have no idea who this English Lord happens to be, think of Downton Abbey and the manor house you’ve been enjoying for years. It’s the family home of the Carnarvon’s at Highclere Castle, who was the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. Some believe he was the first to succumb to the so-called curse, having died from an infected mosquito bite he accidently cut with his razor. It turned into blood poisoning, and he passed away in Cairo after the discovery of the tomb.
The story begins pre-World War I when Carnarvon arrives excited to dig and discover wonders from the past. He hires Howard Carter, who recently finds himself without support to further his own digs. As a result, they head off to the dusty sands but their endeavors are cut short by the beginning of World War I. Finally after it’s ended, the story resumes and so does their search.
Carnarvon insists that Carter dig in a particular area, but Carter believes it’s in the wrong spot. After going through the majority of the Earl’s money, he’s about to throw in the towel. With one last plea to let him look where he thinks Tutankhamun is buried, they find the infamous treasures of the young King to everyone’s surprise and enter on November 26, 1922.
The story weaves a few love interests back and forth for Mr. Carter, the most important one being with Lady Evelyn Carnarvon, which is the Earl’s daughter. Whether that really happened is perhaps a possibility (read here). It does take up a large portion of the storyline in between the dirt, shovels, and rocks. The tale is also set among the rising distrust of the Egyptians against the British who promised to leave after the war but remain. The government, surprisingly at this point, changes the law six weeks before the discovery of Tut’s tomb that the ownership of discovered wealth reverts back to Egypt and is no longer split with the finder.
Max Irons, I thought, isn’t the best of actors except perhaps at that one point when he peeks inside the tomb and declares that he sees wonderful things. Only another spark of a broken heart is revealed upon his love interest’s departure. He’s a bit stiff and unemotional throughout most of the show, not to mention the dirt and sweat of the desert. In spite of it, he does clean up nicely in a dinner jacket. On the other side of the coin, there is the seasoned Sam Neill who is fantastic in all of his performances, filled with fire and emotion that makes up for the lackluster Irons.
When I visited in 1982, King Tut was not in his tomb. We saw the place where the gold coffins stood, which was just a huge empty space. There was no fancy lighting like you see in the picture. His remains had been placed in the Cario museum for some time but were subsequently returned to his resting place in a climate-controlled glass box (in 2007) to prevent further decomposition. Visitors can see him in his splendor. The treasures in the museum are unbelievably vast and gorgeous, and I can still remember standing before them in awe.
For my first BritBox, it was a good period drama, fueling memories of my past. I’m on my second right now, Moonstone, which is turning out to be a pretty good mystery.
Ah, British television. My favorite.