Based loosely on the biblical story of King David, this short-lived NBC series debuted in 2009 to strong critical acclaim but poor ratings and managed only 13 episodes before it was hauled off air.
Ian McShane takes the lead as Silas Benjamin, the King Saul-esque modern day ruler of the fictional kingdom of Gilboa where the monarchy has absolute power. The kingdom is fraught with problems; not only is the country at war with neighbouring Gath, but Prince Jack (Stan) has been captured. Enter David. In the opening two-part pilot, young solider David (Chris Egan), single-handedly faces down the enemy’s tanks, secures the rescue of Prince Jack, and becomes a national symbol of peace; actions which Silas is quick to credit for. Welcomed home as a hero to a court filled with danger and treachery is anything but harmonious and for David, his war has only just begun.
Kings excels in strong performance and multi-layered storytelling; Silas has a second family whose existence is secret to all but David. Jack offers a front as a spoilt playboy to hide his secret homosexuality. Princess Michelle (Alison Miller) remains traumatised from a life of illness and rallies to provide better healthcare in a court that devalues women, headed by her own father.
McShane delivers a theatrically strong performance, whilst Egan holds his own admirably against his more experienced nemesis, but the real standout here is the Winter Solider himself. Sebastian Stan excels at the chance to show what he can really do without the burden of a bionic arm weighing him down, as the tortured Prince Jack, never more so than in the standout episode of the series ‘The Sabbath Queen’. His forbidden love for fellow solider Joseph doesn’t receive as much airtime as Michelle’s doomed romance with David, but following a night with his forbidden lover, Joseph questions Jack over whether their love was real. ‘You’re the only real thing I ever touched’, Stan spits, his words dripping with undisguised self-loathing.
In spite of the promising setup, the final three episodes find alliances betrayed at every corner to the point where you really have no idea who to root for or what the endgame is. It’s difficult to tell whether these twists were a result of imminent cancellation, or an attempt to defy it, but regardless the final episode does give a strong idea at how the series would eventually play out, even if it ends on a semi-cliffhanger. In order to provide a true sense of finality to the DVD release, some scenes were cut from the original televised version.
With only thirteen episodes it’s a tough call to recommend a series that never reached its full potential. However, whilst Kings may not rule the throne when it comes to flawless execution of a bold attempt at a game-changer, there is enough here to ensure it remains heir-apparent to the list of series cancelled before its time. Worth a shot for McShane and Stan alone.
KINGS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTORS: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: IAN MCSHANE, CHRISTOPHER EGAN, SUSANNA THOMPSON, ALLISON MILLER, SEBASTIAN STAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW