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‘Of Kings and Prophets’ review: Biblical saga with minimal appeal

King Saul, played by Ray Winstone, takes on

King Saul, played by Ray Winstone, takes on Amalekites and more in "Of Kings and Prophets." Credit: ABC / Trevor Adeline

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Tuesday night at 10 on ABC/7

GRADE B-

WHAT IT’S ABOUT King Saul (Ray Winstone) wants to unite the 12 tribes of Israel to mount one final and conclusive blow against the hated Philistines. But before he does that, prophet Samuel (Mohammad Bakri) says he has to do something else — God wants him to smite the Amalekites first. Saul is reluctant to the point of disobedient, but he carries out his order anyway — an order that will have consequences for his reign. Meanwhile, a shepherd from Bethlehem, David (Olly Rix), goes to Saul’s palace to seek forgiveness of his father’s debts by promising to kill the lion that has been slaughtering the sheep. David catches the eye of both Saul’s daughter, Michal (Maisie Richardson-Sellers), and Queen Ahinoam (Simone Kessell).

MY SAY According to trade accounts, ABC was originally high on “Of Kings and Prophets” but its ardor has cooled considerably since then. The launch was delayed, parts recast, and the order reportedly cut from 13 to 10 episodes. Watching the first of those, it’s easy to see why: ABC has essentially taken a couple of books from the Bible — 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles 1 — then stttttretched them into the sort of TV series the original authors (or author) never exactly intended.

Liberties were taken — liberties had to be taken, simply to fulfill the requirements of a prime-time drama. What sort of small talk did David and his cousin Joab (David Walmsley) make on the way to meeting King Saul? Find out here!

Liberties have been taken with the Bible since Hollywood was invented, so that’s nothing new. But what makes license palatable to a faith-based audience — probably the only one that counts here — is just how much is taken. Answer in “Of Kings and Prophets”: plenty.

What ABC has tried to do is make something that will appeal to the sword-and-sandal crowd and the faith-based one. Predictably, neither will be pleased. The former want “Spartacus”-sized effusions of blood, guts and sex — in no particular order — while the latter want a quasi-religious experience. The twain do not meet, nor possibly can. “Prophets” fills out the story, but limits the sex/violence quotient. Meanwhile, faith is relegated to the margins.

But “Prophets” manages a few things well — notably the production values — and gives American TV audiences their first good, long look at the fine veteran British actor Ray Winstone. Newcomer Rix is promising, too. Maybe these two can make viewers forget why they tuned in in the first place. Maybe.

BOTTOM LINE A good-looking TV production — filmed in South Africa — but with minimal appeal to either the sword-and-sandal crowd or the faith-based one.

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