The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb may well be one of the 20th century’s great stories — but naturally that doesn’t mean a television drama won’t want to jazz it up a bit. Or, in the case of ITV’s lavishly produced but distinctly corny Tutankhamun, quite a lot. The programme gives us a Howard Carter younger and considerably hunkier than in real life. It throws in a couple of smitten hotties to emphasise the fact. Above all, it transforms Carter into the archaeological equivalent of a maverick TV cop: a man who doesn’t play by the rules, isn’t afraid to follow wild hunches but, by God, gets results.
In Sunday’s opener, we first saw Carter (Max Irons) in 1905 landing a perfect punch on the pampered jaw of a passing French duke who’d manhandled one of his diggers. As a result, he was duly stripped of his licence to excavate by Egypt’s version of those pen-pushers down at City Hall.
We then cut to two years later, and a Rolls-Royce making its unexpected way through the desert. The driver was Lord Carnarvon (Sam Neill), whose archaeological methods initially consisted of sitting in a chair and barking out random instructions to the natives. Luckily, one of them was brave enough to suggest that his lordship might need some expert help and where to find it — which is why Carnarvon was soon stalking through a market bellowing, ‘Any of you chaps know a man called Carter?’
The next seven years passed rather quickly, mainly with various people shaking their heads dolefully and declaring that ‘the Valley of Kings is all dug out’. There was, however, time for the toothsome — and as far as I can see wholly fictional — Maggie Lewis (Catherine Steadman) of New York’s Metropolitan Museum both to develop a crush on Carter and to realise how doomed it was, given his lone-wolf status.