As announced last year Max Irons and Sam Neill are to star in four-part mini series Tutankhamun, produced by ITV Studios.
“This is a story that’s fascinated me since I was eight years old, which I suspect is something I have in common with a lot of grown-up little boys (and girls) out there. Beyond the sheer romance of buried treasure and a three-thousand-year-old mystery, though, there’s a different tale – of courage, tenacity and relentless self-belief.” – writer Guy Burt
The drama is based on the story of Howard Carter (Irons) and his discovery of the tomb of one of Ancient Egypt’s forgotten pharaohs, the boy-king Tutankhamun. Sam Neill takes the role of the dashing and eccentric Lord Carnarvon who keeps faith with Carter and continues to back his expeditions when no one else will. Further cast includes Catherine Steadman, Amy Wren, Jonathan Aris and Rupert Vansittart.
“I had spatterings of knowledge most people have from reading books as kids and seeing those iconic images. So it was a bit of a learning curve for me. It really is an astonishing story. An incredible adventure. Pure and simple. A story of discovery and imagination and I think that’s what people will enjoy about it. When I read the script it was a real joy. As an actor you read a lot of scripts and some of them are a bit of a chore. But this one reminded me of those adventure books you read as a child.” – actor Max Irons
The story written by leading screenwriter Guy Burt focuses on the legendary personal story of Carter, a solitary man on the edge of society who became an iconic figure and an unlikely hero. Set against the great sweep of ochre sands, looming cliffs and baking heat of Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, the story unfolds in 1905 when Carter, an eminent British archaeologist who we meet in his early 20’s, is fervently leading an expedition. Amidst the chaos scattered across the Valley floor, Carter’s grim determination to find lost antiquities is only too apparent. He has an easy manner with the Egyptian men who work alongside him, but when tempers fray Carter is hotheaded and puts the dig and his career in jeopardy.
“I found the story intriguing, having just basic general knowledge about it before this came along. But also I liked the character. Which is important if you’re going to spend quite a few weeks with him. I thought it would be fun to play. And, of course, the other consideration is where are you going to film it? We couldn’t go to Egypt for insurance reasons. So we ended up in South Africa, right beside Namibia. An incredible landscape. It was a privilege to do.” – actor Sam Neill
With his license to dig revoked by Cairo’s Antiquities Service, Carter spends years ostracised, dishevelled and living rough and resorting to selling previously discovered archaeological relics to buy food. A chance meeting with the privileged and fast-living British aristocrat, Lord Carnarvon, brings a change of fortunes as the enthusiastic amateur needs an experienced archaeologist to help him with a series of random excavations. Carter and Carnarvon begin the most unlikely friendship, in spite of their differences in background and character. After years of searching for the tomb, Carter and Carnarvon successfully discover the last resting place of the boy-king in 1921 against all odds and at great personal expense.
“It was a privilege… to be surrounded not only by the most beautiful sets in the most incredible environment but working with the director Peter Webber – who has a forensic approach to what he was doing – and with such a wonderful cast. And being so involved in it. Shooting six days a week in almost every scene. Really getting submerged in this story. It’s what you hunger for as an actor and you are lucky if you get that to enjoy. I have very fond memories of the whole production.” – actor Max Irons
Episode one starts in 1905 and archaeology in Egypt is a rich man’s game, the preserve of aristocrats and tycoons… except for the lone figure of Howard Carter.
Carter is a genius and someone that even expert archaeologists turn to for advice. One of them is Maggie Lewis, a member of the New York Met Museum’s dig team. Maggie is fond of Carter and tries to get him to join her dig but Carter is determined to plough his own furrow.
Maggie brings to Carter’s attention a faience cup and sets the archaeologist off on a trail of discoveries that points to something incredible. Carter becomes convinced that there is a royal tomb that’s forgotten by history and waiting to be discovered. He believes the tomb belongs to the boy king Tutankhamun, a little known Pharaoh whose legacy has been lost to the sands of time. Maggie dismisses Carter’s theories out of hand but he pursues it with single-minded determination.
Only one man has enough faith in Carter’s brilliance to financially back him, Lord Carnarvon. He and Carter form the unlikeliest of partnerships: the dashing maverick aristocrat and the outcast genius, who had no formal training in archaeology. Together they join forces to unearth the greatest archaeological marvel the world has ever seen…
Carnarvon’s teenage daughter Evelyn is swept away by the magic of the Valley of the Kings and she believes Carter’s theory of a lost tomb.
An off-hand comment from Evelyn leads Carter to think that the tomb might be right under their noses, in the centre of the Valley of the Kings.But the outbreak of World War 1 means that Carter’s dream has to be put on hold – perhaps forever.