Netflix’s Marco Polo could be the next big thing in historical costume dramas. The company sure is spending enough on this series — the first 10 episodes cost a reported $90 million, as much as HBO’s Game of Thrones cost (currently the most expensive TV series ever produced, according to public radio’s Marketplace). All that money went towards shooting on location in Malaysia, recruiting massive numbers of extras for battle scenes, recreating the rich palaces of the 13th-century Kublai Khan, and (we hope) some interesting and historically accurate costumes.
The New York Times has this to say: “Producers brought on a team of cultural advisers and historians to ensure that the narrative would be authentic enough to hold up to viewers worldwide. They noted details, such as how men would bow before the emperor and how to hold shields when riding horses.” Will that level of detail extend to the costumes the characters wear? IMDB doesn’t show any big-name costume designer attached to Marco Polo, so it’s hard to tell what level of experience in historical research has gone into the costumes for this series.
TV has a pretty mixed record when it comes to getting history right, in either costume or story. There’s The Tudors and Reign on one hand that treat history as a pretty background for soap-opera hijinx. Then we have shows like Elizabeth R on the other side, telling history as it was, with rich characterizations and amazing visuals. A few dramas such as The Borgias and Downton Abbey fall somewhere in between, mixing pure entertainment with strong elements of historical accuracy in both plot and set dressing.
Where will the Netflix Marco Polo series end up on this continuum? We’ll find out on December 12, 2014, when the whole thing is available for streaming. In the meantime, check out these previews (with some added historical context)…