Rise of Empires: Ottoman

While most of the series time is well spent, certain sides of characters are explored in too much depth.

Istanbul is a city deeply instilled in history, which the show “Rise of Empires” explores a mere two months of. An intense siege to conquer Constantinople in 1453 is led by the Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Cem Yigit Uzümoglu) to establish Istanbul after many previous Sultan’s failures. The show is an exciting exploration of the takeover of Constantinople and explores the event’s geopolitical intricacies, but it fails to make actual battles entertaining.

While the main plot is engaging, some of the side plots feel like a waste of time. Mehmet’s first act as Sultan is to successfully siege Constantinople — a task that’s never been done before. During the two-month invasion, both Mehmet and Emperor Constantine XI’s (Tommaso Baili) views are shown to evenly represent the ideologies of both sides. Rather than focusing on the opposing religious ideologies that are often the center of attention, the leaders’ strategies and advisors are explored instead to give a fuller idea of the situation.

While most of the time is well spent, certain sides of characters are explored in too much depth. For instance, the leader of the mercenary army for Constantinople, Giovanni Giustiniani (Birkan Sokullu), is romantic with Therma Sphrantzes (İlayda Akdoğan), but it adds nothing to the overall story. Mehmet’s rocky past with his father, the previous Sultan, is also portrayed despite what little effect it has on Mehmet’s decisions. Considering there are only six episodes, it seems odd to waste already limited time on something with no payoff.

Throughout the siege, the precarious geopolitical situation involved adds tension for the Turkish army. Mehmet’s mother, Mara Branković (Tuba Büyüküstün), helps Mehmet realize that moving his army as far away as he can will leave him open to attack from the Hungarians and Serbs. On the other hand, Constantine XI waits for word on any reinforcements from the Pope and Italy, hoping for it despite the Pope’s supposed reluctance to help the Orthodox Christians. 

Inner politics also have a hand in mixing up strategies in the show. Candarli Halil Pasha (Selim Bayraktar) and Mehmet have been rivals since Mehmet’s childhood because of Mehmet’s headstrong personality. This causes Halil Pasha to constantly try to convince Mehmet that the siege is a bad idea and that they should form a treaty instead. The constant headbutting turns Halil Pasha into an easy to hate secondary antagonist with his constant disagreements impeding progress in battle.

Oftentimes, Giustiniani’s reputation causes problems for Constantine XI. Loukas Notaras (Osman Sonant) brings religious prejudice into the mix, antagonizing the mercenary leader for being Catholic. This brings an interesting sneak peek of the schism in Christianity coming within the next century. Despite the animosity between them, the mercenary’s strategic genius is on full display as he constantly thwarts the Turkish invasion attempts. 

Hope is an interesting theme throughout the show, as it causes a drastic change in attitude depending on which side is shown. As Mehmet continues to fail in his invasion, his anger often boils to the surface as he formulates strategies that could be a final push. There’s always an interesting contrast shown with a sliding scale between feeling glorious and hopeless depending on the current circumstances.

Although the focus of the show is a prolonged fight, the actual action is terrible. Every fight is obscured by a shaky camera, making it nearly impossible to tell which side is which. The only times the camera is still are during the night or in explosions where figures are obscured, still leaving many details out of the picture. Thankfully, the skirmishes don’t last long, but they’re still hard to watch.

“Rise of Empires: Ottoman” brings differing perspectives on the fall of Constantinople. It equally represents both sides and politics bog them down to offer every angle of the event. With problems that hardly stick around, the docudrama is a solid piece for history buffs to watch.

Contact Caleb Barbachem at barbaccf@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.