Everything There Isn’t to Know about Tut

I would have loved to have been in the programming meeting at Spike TV the day the miniseries Tut was conceived. I envision some very brave visionary suggesting that what the network really needed to round out its schedule of Cops, Jail, and World’s Wildest Police Videos was a historical drama. Then, someone else, probably very drunk, put forth a club-footed, incestuous, Egyptian boy king depicted as an everyman hero as being the proper topic of such a drama.

The result is a kind of beautiful train wreck.

The marketing people were clearly smoking something as well, as they promoted this nightmare thusly:

Spike’s six hour, three-night, epic event, TUT, tells the story of astounding saga of one of history’s most extraordinary rulers, Tutankhamun (King Tut) (source)

The truth is there was very little extraordinary about the New Kingdom pharaoh Tutankhamun, whom modern culture has nicknamed King Tut. He was born into an extraordinary time, but that facet of his life is almost entirely glossed over here. His father, Akenaten, had abolished the traditional religion and replaced it with monotheism. Akenaten’s chief wife, Nefertiti, might well have ruled as a pharaoh herself for a time.

But none of this has to do with the rule of Tutankhamun, which started when he was nine years old. In practice, Egypt was probably ruled by his close advisers, as is the general case of child rulers throughout the world. The temples were reopened and the traditional gods were once more honored.

And Tutankhamun grew up. And then he died. He was 19 years old. He just never had the opportunity to do great things.

Death Mask of Tutankhamun
Death Mask of Tutankhamun

The only reason you have heard of King Tut is because, unlike most royal Egyptian tombs, his wasn’t completely robbed. The entrance was covered by the rubble from another tomb and forgotten. It was discovered in the 1920s and gave us the best examples to date of what a royal burial truly looked like, including a solid gold coffin weighing over 200 pounds and an intricately decorated and a solid gold death mask.

And then, just to complicate things, future pharaohs attempted to obliterate the heretic Akenaten and his family from the historical record, and that treatment extended to Tutankhamun. So we have even less material than usual from which to draw conclusions about his life.

So I certainly wasn’t expecting something particularly historical, and I wasn’t disappointed there. I really didn’t know what they were going to fill a whopping six hours with. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was a tale of a pharaoh who sneaks around town in disguise to be closer to his people and who falls in love with a common girl, whom he brings back to the palace. This causes his wife/sister to become murderously jealous, even though polygamy was the norm for Egyptian royalty. There’s also a bit about him being presumed killed in battle, only to show up much later as his wife attempts to marry another man (her long-standing lover, no less). Then, later, he sneaks into the enemy’s palace and assassinates him.

It isn’t merely wrong. It doesn’t make any sense. This isn’t the behavior of a pharaoh, who is a living god. On top of which, it’s all just horribly cliché.

Ben Kingsley as Vizier Ay
Ben Kingsley plays Vizier Ay, Tut’s closest advisor.

They end the series with his funeral, and they explain that his chief advisor, Ay, “saw that Tut was buried in a lesser tomb, one whose occupant would never be known.” Tutankhamun’s tomb is certainly small for a royal tomb, but he was also very young. He didn’t have decades to dig an elaborate tomb. And he buried him in the Valley of the Kings, as a pharaoh should be. There were plenty of items inside the tomb which identified which pharaoh lay there. There were no markings on the outside, but that’s the case of each burial in the Valley. The statement is just so wrong on so many levels. They don’t even explain why Ay would be so horribly vindictive.

The costuming is uneven. At times, outfits have practically jumped off of historical artwork. Other times, I’m not sure what they jumped off of.

Tutankhamun and wife in Tut
What is she wearing? And why are the guards wearing pharaonic headdresses?

Ultimately, Tut fails at the conceptual level.  There just isn’t enough from which to work.  Rather than making up an entire story and then applying it to a historical figure, they would have been better off promoting their tale as fantasy.  Alternatively, they could have chosen another character on which to focus, one we know more about and which has a more compelling story.


Tutanchamun Maske” by en:User:MykReeve.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Other images (c) Spike TV

1 Comment

  1. Love the scathing dismissal–this is a review after my own heart. And let me guess–all the main characters were very light-skinned and there was tons of slo-mo sex? When I think of the things I’m missing by not owning a tv…I realize I’m not missing that much after all.

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