Netflix has decided to remove the period piece Magnificent Century. It’s a Turkish-language TV series that dramatizes the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent from his ascension to the throne through to, well I don’t know. The series ran for four seasons in Turkey (as well as Russia, Poland, and Hungary) and I will never be able to get that far. As a matter of fact, Netflix offers only the first season via streaming and the DVD set seem unobtainable outside of the region (in DVD speak) where it played on TV. Plus, of course, come the end of the month, Netflix won’t have even that.
Once again, I don’t understand the cost structure of this streaming business, but it seems like the technology exists to open up unique local content to the world and yet somehow the business end of things keeps that from happening. You’d think that, having gone to the trouble of making this available to the U.S., there is no downside to just leaving it there on the server. And yet, I suppose there must be on Netflix’s accounting sheets.
It probably goes without saying that Magnificent Century is no big-budget production. Scenes are typically kept pretty intimate. The occasional sweeping views rely heavily on CGI, and not really the among the best made-for-TV CGI I’ve seen. Still, even when the computer generation is obvious it remains tasteful. The “period drama” is nicely done with costumes and sets, both indoors and out, looking good on screen.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of all of this to me is the fact that it comes from Turkey. We typically see early-modern history portrayed through Western eyes. That is, it is the history of us. Here, the “us” of the production are the Ottomans, not the Westerners. Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and other parts of Christian Europe are portrayed, but in this case they are the “other,” not the home team. This point can be subtle at times. The period portrayed is after the Crusades era. While the West talks about launching new crusades and the Ottomans plan to slaughter the infidels, at the same time, the Ottoman Empire engages in trade and diplomacy with the West. In other words, while we’re still watching a clash of civilizations, those civilizations are no longer completely alien to each other.
So as a Turkish portrayal of history, we see Suleiman the Magnificent concerning himself with justice and good stewardship of his empire instead of a sole focus on expansion and conquest as we in the West might. We also see a show that seems, at times, to be more fit for daytime soap opera slots than on my Netflix must-see list. The ascendancy of Hurrem Sultan (sometimes Roxelana in the West) to become the mother of the future Sultan is, historically, as important a part of this story as any. The style is something that wouldn’t have been portrayed in a American series for decades. It would be more at home in the soap operas of my childhood or, perhaps, the Star Trek episodes where Kirk gets taken in by a hot-looking Alien.
In native Turkey, this was one of the most popular home-grown television shows ever created. I can see why. It is a solid piece of dramatized historical fiction.