The Biblical story of King Saul of Israel is retold in epic fashion in an event series premiering this week on ABC.
In “Of Kings and Prophets,” premiering Tuesday (March 8), Ray Winstone (“The Departed,” “Noah”) stars as King Saul, the first ruler of Israel 1,000 years before Jesus Christ, who endeavors to unify the 12 tribes of Israel and defend his fledgling nation from attacks by a savage enemy. But when the prophet Samuel (Mohammad Bakri, “Tyrant,” “Private”) relays a message from God that he must destroy one of Israel’s ancient enemies, he defies the missive, and Samuel prophesies that God will take the kingdom from his control and choose another ruler. And Saul soon learns that his greatest threat will come not from old enemies, but from the humble shepherd David (Olly Rix, “Death Comes to Pemberley,” “Midsomer Murders”).
Also in the cast are Simone Kessell (“Terra Nova”) as Queen Ahinoam; Nathaniel Parker (“Merlin”) as King Achish; Haaz Sleiman (“Nurse Jackie”) as Jonathan; and Maisie Richardson-Sellers (“Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”) as Michal.
“Was I looking to play a biblical king? No,” Winstone recently told a gathering of TV critics in Pasadena, Calif. “What interested me in Saul was looking into the records of him. The only thing I knew about Saul was he was one of the first kings of Israel. But for me, what was more interesting in Saul was the stress of the man, the illness of the man, a man who was a normal guy, a shepherd, who was labored with the weight of running the nation and how it affected him and how it affected his family. So, as in any drama, you look for what you can bring to a character. And that’s what it was for me that interested me in King Saul.”
As for the other characters, they all believe in God — including Saul. But whether he believes someone who purports to deliver the word of the Almighty, in this case David, is a central theme of the series.
“Of course, that’s what Saul’s dilemma is in the pilot episode,” executive producer Chris Brancato says. “And, fundamentally, this story is one of the greatest stories in world literature. And it’s about a very unlikely hero, a shepherd named David from the corner of the kingdom, who has a kind of self-assurance and will to go for greatness, to ascend in life. And what you watch in the pilot is his journey from the outskirts of what is a nation that is just forming into the royal courtroom, where he ends up finding a royal family and essentially a surrogate father in Saul, whom, over the course of the season, as you shall see, he ends up in fierce competition to attain a crown that he never asked for, that was anointed to him by God through the prophet Samuel.
“But, again, whether Samuel is actually speaking for God or not is a subject of debate amongst these characters,” he continues. “And I think the show in general is an examination of how we utilize faith in our lives, what higher powers we feel responsible to. David is one of the most interesting characters in world history because he sins, and then he repents. He is almost a symbol of the ambiguity and complexity of human nature, and so I think our show explores that.”