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Review: Marco Polo on Netflix

Review: Marco Polo on Netflix

Fans of Netflix finally have their own series to talk about at the water cooler, as the streaming service launched it’s most ambitious project to date, centered on the life and travels of Marco Polo. Those of us old enough to remember the mini series from the 80’s recall how sweeping and heroic the tale of this brave Genoese merchant was, but if you have not yet caught a glimpse of this new series, well you’re in for a time worthy of a Barbarian feast.

Hold on to that beard

Hold on to that beard, this ain’t your grandma’s Marco Polo…

The young protagonist, played by Italian actor Lorenzo Richelmy, shines for this generation’s Richard Chamberlain. What the Shogun actor lacked in physicality, is more than made up for in this Marco Polo’s brooding intensity and swagger. As the show unravels, Polo skillfully navigates the numerous intrigues and threats on his standing in the Mongol court, and we grow to appreciate the depth of his intelligence and compassion. Actor Benedict Wong is perfectly cast as the ever fearsome and ambitious, chess-loving Kublai Khan.

The masterfully captures the air of courtly life: concubines, Kung Fu masters and mystic scholars fill the sets. The Great Khan roars from a hall that owes more to the recent historical martial arts epics coming out of Hong Kong, then perhaps the real historic court of the Yuan empire. But there’s enough cultural subtext that the show succeeds immersing you quickly in the rapidly changing world in which Marco finds himself.

The series starts out in setting the stage of Marco captivity with the Khan, and his eventual friendship that develops between the two, whom the Khan affectionately refers to as the Latin. When the show comes to life, is when the various sons, wives, and courtiers of the Khan begin plotting their own storylines often to win favor, or as in the case of the Song Emperor, to defeat the Khan. The show takes great care in developing very well rounded archetypes of the types of characters you would expect to belong in the courtly world of medieval China. With Persians and Chinese councillors intermingling with Mongol warriors and Eunuch harem guards. The women in the show are also afforded great powers by the writers of the show, and have a large role in deciding the outcomes of events, if not by their own hands…or swords.

Beware what lurks in the water

Beware what lurks in the water

The show really shines though in the details as is shown in scenes where tidbits of Mongol history pepper the storyline. One such scene is when the captive warriors of the Mongol enemies are held in a cage and being prepared for a “Rendering”, which literally means butchering them up on giant chopping blocks and melting their limbs down to rendered fat to be used in creating fireball siege weapons. There’s also a poignant scene where the son of the Khan arrives at a group of musicians performing traditional Mongol throat singing before a battle, and he sits with them, his eyes drifting off into his mind as he lets the music overtake him. It’s these little moments that add so much to this world being created, but there’s an amazing balance of action as well, often centered around the strong cast of women on the show, who are as deadly and devious as they are beautiful. Keep watching this show, if it survives another season, it can only get more complex as the last episode of season one revealed in it’s final panorama.

Herodotus was a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the fifth century BC (c. 484–425 BC). Widely referred to as “The Father of History” (first conferred by Cicero), he was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically and critically, and then to arrange them into a historiographic narrative. Although some of his stories were fanciful and others inaccurate, he states he was reporting only what was told to him. Little is known of his personal history.