The Overview: A Netflix Original production, the first season of Marco Polo charts the great adventurers early years in the Mongol court of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan and ruler of a fifth of the world’s landmass. Advertised as Netflix’ answer to The Borgias and Game Of Thrones, Marco Polo is billed as being full of political intrigue, sex and death in the 13th century.
The Positive: But don’t let that put you off. This show is about the story, the plot. It isn’t an over the top view of wanton lust and destruction that other ‘period’ programs like to portray. Of course, there are highly charged sexual moments, or scenes of death and torture. But when they do appear, it’s in relation to the characters involved, their reactions, their development. You never get the feeling that such a scene is thrown in because the writers aren’t quite sure what to do otherwise. The acting is superb across the board, particular credit going to Benedict Wong as an absolutely superb Kublai Khan. He’s the only person in the show attempting an accent and he pulls it off. Thankfully, the Italians are played by Italians, so no comedic voices there. Pacing is fantastic, as is character focus. Polo gets a lot of development (he is the title character, after all), but the rest of the main cast are by no means ignored. Marco Polo is central in his experience of events, but the supporting cast throw a huge amount of influence into that experience that the series would not be the same without them. The fighting is minimal, but when there is some the choreography is superb. We witness everything from stylised Kung Fu to well filmed sabre fights, and every time it’s brilliant. No silly stage fighting here.
Before we move on to the dreaded negatives, a last quick positive. The sets are fantastic. Evocative of the period, carefully constructed and designed to really add to the characters that most often inhabit them. Equally, the costume is superb. At no point was there anything particularly out of place, some dodgy piece of armour or quickly thrown together outfit. Every item the characters wear suits their position within the series, and almost everything is individual. The quality is all obviously fantastic, right down to the jewellery and the basic clothing of the guards. Cannot praise it enough, really.
The Negative: Let’s just get this out of the way. The accents are interesting. Kublai and the Italians sound spot on. Every one else is a mixture of either obviously-English or obviously-American. It isn’t necessarily bad, in so much as it can be a little jilting at times. The Khan’s courts are, however, described very early on as multicultural, allowing any faith, so a series of different accents from different influences is pretty reasonable. Just…the American sounds odd as it always does in historical settings. The plot, whilst engaging, isn’t overly substantial for ten episodes. Presumably things will change in the next season, but this one is a little bit of style over substance. However, as I’ve stated, what plot there is is very good.
And that’s it really. It isn’t The Tudors or The Borgias, and that really does pay off. If anything, it most closely fits to Amazon’s Viking series, but with a bigger budget. It contains death, fighting, sex and intrigue but for once it actually all makes sense. The writers are clever, the actors are fantastic. The costume is amazing, the sets are cleverly done and the plot is engaging. The bad guy is a blatantly insane chancellor, this show has everything you could possibly want. Go and watch it!