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THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER Review: Sex, Blood & More Fantasy than Advertised

By on September 14, 2015

The Bastard Executioner -- Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

If early reviews of The Bastard Executioner seem to compare the upcoming series to Game of Thrones, then it’s probably with good reason.

FX’s part historical/part fantasy series, from Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter, is a bloody and enthusiastic amalgamation of Thrones, Braveheart, Excalibur, and every fantasy fiction book you’ve ever read. Despite being pushed as a largely historical tale of Welsh life in the 14th Century, the series mixes Pagan practices, witches, Christianity and even a dragon into the mix over the first two hours.

The series tells the story of Wilkin Brattle, a warrior knight in King Edward I’s charge who is betrayed and subsequently mortally injured on the battlefield. On the point of death he is visited by an angel who saves him, only to reveal that his destiny lies ahead and that his savior requires him to “live the life of a different man.” Assuming this is a call to lay down his sword and settle into the life of a farmer and husband, the knight, thankful for his life, goes and does just that.

However, violence finds him again years later, and the angel’s words take on another meaning when the knight is forced to assume the identity of a traveling ‘punisher’ or journeyman executioner.

If you like your fantasy TV to be of the ultra violent, limb hacking, neck slicing and blood spurting variety then you’ll feel right at home with The Bastard Executioner.

On TBX, soldiers don’t just kill people. They run them through, or hack them to pieces, while laughing. Everyone laughs at death, the thought of death and while dealing death. The only people not laughing are those being impaled, eviscerated or separated from their heads. Even children laugh while skewering grown men in the throat.

There’s sex too. Although it’s not as prolific as in Game of Thrones, it’s eye-wateringly rough and perfunctory – with practically everyone getting pummeled from behind (Was this position de rigueur in 14th Century Wales?). Oddly there’s not a lot of nudity. Perhaps there’s no time for stripping off? Everyone seems to be in such a hurry to race off and kill someone.

The language can be flowery at times also, and the couple of episodes we watched included some cringe-worthy gems.

“The fight skill he has given you, that was learned on the field of battle, not barley.”

“I serve God and family, not cause or crowns.”

However, TBX is firmly grounded in history, according to its lead, Lee Jones, who spoke to ScreenSpy last week about the show and its direction. (FYI, Jones is more than capable in the role of the conflicted Wilkin Brattle, a staunch pragmatist whose humanity is never under question, and I have no doubt he will be the reason people will continue to tune in.)

“This is based in reality. It’s not fantasy in any way,” said Jones. “There’s a very well thought out mythology behind the show. It’s grounded in actual history. It’s a very gritty, real, Medieval world.”

Respectable veneer of historical accuracy aside, (full disclosure: I know less than Jon Snow about 14th Century Wales and I’m too lazy to go look it up, so I’ll just accept that everything Lee and TBX says about Edward Longshanks, Feudal barons, Roman Catholic persecution and serfdom is accurate, and there truly is nothing more dangerous than a Welsh man with nothing to lose) TBX is either a recipe for success, or failure, depending on how eager fans are to dine on what’s being served.

The series stars Lee Jones, Stephen Moyer, Katey Sagal, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Kurt Sutter and Sam Spruell. A large supporting cast includes Darren Evans, Danny Sapani, Timothy V. Murphy, Sarah White, Sarah Sweeney, Elen Rhys, Ethan Griffiths and Guest Star Matthew Rhys.

The Bastard Executioner premieres September 15, 10:00pm – 12:05am (e/p) on FX.

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