TV Review: “The Bastard Executioner” – Swing and Miss

Written by Michelle Young November 02, 2015

The Bastard Executioner

It seems like the common trend in medieval dramas nowadays is to inject as much sex and violence into them as possible. “Game of Thrones” even famously inspired the creation of the term “sexposition”. But while “Game of Thrones” does portray a lot of sex and violence, it’s usually pretty smart about it. “The Bastard Executioner” isn’t. It’s this lack of keen employment, along with a lot of other details, that really bring down the show.

“The Bastard Executioner” is set in turbulent 14th century Wales where Welsh rebels are fighting the oppressive English. While injured on the battlefield, Wilkin Brattle (Lee Jones), a Welsh knight fighting for England, has a religious epiphany and is told to become a different man. He follows the advice and finds himself years later leading a simple farm life with his wife, who is pregnant with their first child. This simple life, however, gets disrupted when Wilkin decides to attack a group of tax collectors. This leads to the ruthless Baron Erik Ventris (Brían F. O’Byrne) burning down and murdering his entire village. After eventually rallying together enough rebels to ambush and kill Ventris, Wilkin, still seeking revenge, assumes the identity of an executioner in order to hide from the crown. But in a twist he’s hired by Ventrishier’s Chamberlin, Milus Corbett (Stephen Moyer), to work for the very men who killed and sacked his home.

“It is time to lay down this sword, Wilkin Brattle. Your saviour needs you to live the life of a different man.”

The biggest problem with “The Bastard Executioner” is it just doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. It struggles to really focus on what it’s trying so desperately portray. They’re clearly trying to philosophize about things like religion, loyalty, duty, morality, and love, but are never really able to make any salient arguments. This is the by-product of the many faults, like the various side plots that feel really disjointed and the sporadic, uneven pace. The dialogue is also pretty atrocious, falling back on just as much “medieval drama” clichéd and rhetoric as the many boring characters. The acting, save for Flora Spencer-Longhurst who does a pretty bang up job with what she is given, is also overall pretty bland. Lee Jones doesn’t really cut it for me – his performance is boring and awkward – which is really disappointing considering he’s the lead. The strange decision to include Ed Sheeran in a role, especially as a 14th Century torturer, is odd and his acting was really terrible. What really does the show in for me, though, is how it gratuitously uses violence, gore, and sex.

the bastard executioner

For me to say that a show named “The Bastard Executioner” is too violent may seem like I’m saying sugar is too sweet. Of course it has to be violent, it’s literally part of the premise of the show, and it works really well for some of the battle scenes. Where it all goes wrong is in how over-saturated the violence and gore is. This not only begins to feel exploitative, but it also completely dominates the storytelling and takes away nuance or subtlety. Moments like an innocent man being drawn and quartered derive their shock value from the gore more than the anything else.

“We both know there is nothing more dangerous than a Welshman that has nothing to lose.”

The use of sex is also a big problem for me because pretty much every scene with explicit sex is pretty irrelevant. My biggest gripe is with the two sisters Clara (Sophie Lovell Anderson) and Ramona (Eloise Lovell Anderson), as their characters amount to not much more than sex slaves. This becomes even more problematic for “The Bastard Executioner”, considering that it doesn’t have that many female characters of consequence to begin with. Aside from the Baroness (Flora Spencer-Longhurst), her maid Isabel (Sarah White), and Annora the witch (Katey Segal), the very few other women on the show are pretty much just backdrop.

the bastard executioner

“The Bastard Executioner” had so much potential to be really good, but to me they just didn’t execute it right (pun intended). So far the seven episodes that have aired just feel like build up, so maybe something incredible will happen towards the end of the season that will change my mind about it. But as for now, “The Bastard Executioner” is a pretty big dud.

My Rating: 5.5/10

The Bastard Executioner

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