One of my all time favorite movies is the 1986 adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Starring Sean Connery at a time when he was making a comeback. The story takes place in a Benedictine abbey in northern Italy in the year 1327.
That on its own is already unusual, not many period movies from that time in history. The story is at its core a murder mystery. The protagonist William of Baskerville (a literary reference by the author) receives the urgent task by the abbot to solve several murders. Time is of the essence as the abbey is to be the site of a great debate between those adhering to the idea of the poverty of Christ and the Avignon papacy.
Umberto Eco has as such created a marvelous backdrop for the characters. It creates need, desires and secrets. As I said the 1986 movie adaptation which also stars Christian Slater in an early role is one of my favorite movies. But now an international series production had finished. Nominally the Italian production company Rai Fiction is producing. The series as such debuted a few days ago on Rai 1. International release will follow later on in April and early May.
However, despite this adaptation being produced mainly in Italy the language spoken is English. As such there is no language barrier and I could thus review the first 2 episodes. Next week will follow 2 more episodes until all 10 are released.
The series adaptation is being created Giacomo Battiato, who is also directing the all of the episodes. William of Baskerville is played by John Torturro. Already during the first episode you sense a departure from the 1986 adaption. This William is more hands-on, not shying away from delving into the politics that existed at this time period, namely the continued fighting between France and the Holy Roman Empire.
Adso and the girl
And so the viewer is also introduced to Adso of Melk, and aspiring monk whose father wants him to be a warrior. Just like the earlier adaptation Adso knows nothing about women, though from the start as the duo make their way to the abbey they are being followed by a young woman played by Nina Fotaras. Nina’s role is only described as the girl.
Despite the high production values and undoubtedly excellent directing by Battiato I will urge this is not a movie production. These days the dividing line between film and series is blurring, but the pace and attention to small plot details means this is firmly a series adaptation of The Name of the Rose.
So far two episodes in both William and his apprentice Adso are having a hard time figuring out why anyone would want to murder the young illustrator Adelmo and Greek translator Venantius. After questioning witnesses William considers that Adelmo probably killed himself because he was seduced by Brother Berangar. As they continue their investigations I cannot help but joke to myself that it was the abbot in the library with the candle stick.
Sherlock Holmes-type monk
Because of the presumption of suicide the first death appears nothing more but a tragic circumstance. Yet William uncovers clues in his quest to find the murderer of Venantius. As William by his own admission is a rather bookish monk. He is now visiting an abbey famous for its library the story intersects with his own professional interests. It appears as though Venantius was killed in a dispute over a book on comedy.
Meanwhile, the abbot, played by the redoubtable Michael Emerson soon hears that the Avignon papacy has no intention of losing the argument. The pope is sending his inquisitor Bernardo Gui as his envoy. Considering the threat of violence now being imminent pressure is mounting on the abbot. In a scene that is hard to explain we see the abbot dressing a statue of Mary in jewelry and then to cravenly pray to her.
And so most characters in this adaptation have multiple layers. The exception might be Adso. While the character gets plenty of screen-time his nativity and innocence also means here is no hidden motive. He and William by the end of the second episode manage to make their way into the restricted section of the abbey library after finding a secret entrance in the ossuary.
Straight-up murder mystery
This part of the story is a straight-up murder mystery wherein the detective – I mean bookish Sherlock Holmes-type monk – carefully uncovers clues to motive and opportunity. But the real story, the great debate between religious extremes, is never away.
The shows creator tries to remind the audience of that in what might appear a heavy handed way. Through flashbacks we see how one monk Remigio was once a member of the Dulcenite sect. His people where in the end slaughtered as heretics. But interestingly we also see the first person account of a woman named Anna, played by Greta Scarano. We will have to wait until future episode to uncover her fate.