We’ve snarked photos from The Magnificent Century (2011-14), aka Muhtesem Yüzyil, plenty of times before, but I thought it was only fair to give the TV series a legit try when I found it on Netflix. Loosely based on the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, the 10th and longest reigning sultan of the Ottoman Empire, this is pretty much a Turkish take on The Tudors. Meaning, it’s a romanticized historical fiction version of a well-known figure, done up quite lavishly if not very accurately.
The series was hugely popular in Turkey, breaking records with 150 million weekly viewers. But the less-than-reverent portrayal of Süleyman and ever-so-slightly racy harem scenes earned the ire of conservative forces, including Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who condemned the show on several occasions. This didn’t stop its successful run or a sequel The Magnificent Century: Kösem (Muhtesem Yüzyil: Kösem) beginning in 2015, about the 14th sultan in the 1590s, and that series is still on air.
Much like The Tudors, this series follows a basic outline of the historical facts and then embellishes for dramatic effect. To be fair, as some articles have pointed out, there are fewer court chronicles to rely upon, especially with details about the women’s lives in the Ottoman Empire. Directors (and brothers) Yağmur and Durul Taylan told the New Yorker that they sought out a female scriptwriter, Meral Okay, to show a woman’s perspective of this historical period.
Because, while Süleyman’s political exploits and military campaigns get a fair amount of screentime, the real meat of the story takes place behind the harem walls between the women. There’s the sultan’s mother, Hasfa, who schemes to keep Mahidevran as chief consort, since she has born the sultan’s eldest son. But the star is Alexandra, a flame-haired Ukrainian/Russian slave, who entrances the sultan and takes on his pet name for her, Hürrem. It’s fairly standard soap-opera back-biting bitchery, complete with pillow fights, slapping, tears and recriminations, and the men fading into the background. Not exactly strong powerful women, but they are more interesting than the men, who seem to just stand around and send edicts about beheadings.
Costumes in The Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yüzyil)
I’m gonna run this Turkish Tudors analogy into the ground, so bear with me. You know how The Tudors costumes take the general sillhouettes and style of 16th-century English court clothing and then screw it up with non-period fabric, details from other eras, or totally modern elements? Yeah, that’s exactly how the costumes of The Magnificent Century relate to what the court of Süleyman the Magnificent wore.
Usually at this point in a Frock Flicks review, I’d insert a bunch of historical costume references so you have something to compare the TV show’s costumes to. But c’mon, do you really need a lot of explanation to see that these costumes aren’t super accurate? You can practically feel the polyester georgette through the screen. I did scour the interwebs for comparison images, but for Süleyman’s (westernized spelling: Suleiman) reign from 1520-1566, most of what’s available are Turkish male garb. The female images I’ve found are either westernized (by artists who never visited the Ottoman court) or they’re from a later date. But still, look at the TV costumes, they speak for themselves. I get a lot more Lord of the Rings elf gowns / European medieval fantasy princesses than authentic Turkish 16th century court garb.
So yeah, there’s the history lesson you didn’t need.
In general, what the women wear in The Magnificent Century is too tight and shows too much cleavage and bare shoulders for 16th century Turkey. The fabric choices range from just OK to screamingly modern poly baroque satin. The women’s long, flowing hair and pink lip gloss are 100% modern, and the men’s hair is kind of modern too. I’m pretty sure more (or all) of the men should have long beards as well; in the series, long beards are used only for old men.
I do like that The Magnificent Century attempted to make the elaborate headgear seen in illustrations of the period for both men and women. Also, the series makes a point of showing that Süleyman was a skilled jeweler, and pieces he makes are sometimes a plot point (the repro jewelry is available all over the Middle East and online). This jewelry helps prove the show’s commitment to sparkle motion, that’s for sure.
Have you tried to watch The Magnificent Century (Muhtesem Yüzyil)? Do you like the soap opera or just enjoy snarking it?