‘Knightfall’: A Warrior Monk Searches for the Holy Grail

Knightfall - Tom Cullen
Knightfall - Tom Cullen

Oh, Lord. Imagine being sworn to protect the most coveted item in the world…and losing it. That’s the conundrum medieval warrior monk Landry (Downton Abbey’s Tom Cullen) and his fellow Knights Templar find themselves in when the Holy Grail—the cup that Christians believe Jesus Christ used at the Last Supper—disappears at sea during a bloody battle. “Landry’s whole life is turned on its head,” Cullen says. “He thinks that God has deserted him, and so he ­questions his very existence.”

That identity crisis stands at the center of History’s 10-episode drama about the famed Catholic military order of the 13th and 14th centuries. “Knightfall has the fun of sword fighting and ­battles, but they’re not fictional fantasy knights,” says writer and executive producer Dominic Minghella. “They were a remarkable band of brothers. These were real people.”

Fallible people. Landry, grappling with his botched assignment, eventually falls for a woman. “It’s a challenge between his faith and his humanity,” Cullen says of the relationship. “As a celibate monk, he is breaking one of the most important vows that he’s made and lying to his brothers.”

His paramour’s identity is the first of many surprises woven into the action-packed premiere, which introduces viewers to the French court of King Phillip IV (Ed Stoppard)—“a very bad man,” Minghella says—and his scheming top adviser, William de ­Nogaret (Julian Ovenden). The opening hour also reveals a new clue to the missing Grail’s location that launches the knights on another exciting quest. “Landry goes on this pathological hunt to find it,” reveals Cullen, who hit the gym for five hours a day to get in shape for his character’s many battle scenes. “He believes that when he finds the Grail, it will solve all of his issues and return him back to the man he was before.”

Of course, there will be bumps along the way. “His journey is not going to be straightforward,” Minghella promises. “There will come a point where Landry has to choose between being a monk and being a lover.”

Knightfall, Series Premiere, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 10/9c, History