“Rise of Empires: Ottoman” is one of the latest additions to the “docudrama” movement and centers around a war in the mid-1400s. The six-episode first season gives a detailed account of the Ottoman Empire’s struggle and inevitable triumph in conquering Constantinople. It takes on a new approach to historical documentaries with its production value, talent and format – an impressive achievement considering other productions of its kind can feel cheesy and clearly thrown together on a shoestring budget.
Created and directed by a Turkish production team, the series feels more authentic in its perspective. Viewers walk in the past through the eyes of the top players of the conflict: Mehmed II of the Ottomans, Constantine XI of the Romans and their respective advisors. The soothing narration of Charles Dance guides the transitions between decorated historians recalling the tale and a talented cast of actors. The audience witnesses the deep seeds of Mehmed’s ambition and unfavorably, the desperation of Constantine.
It is clear from the very beginning that Constantinople is the ultimate prize. Cem Yiğit Üzümoğlu expertly portrays the confident and sometimes cruel Mehmed II, also known as Fatih Sultan Mehmet or Mehmed the Conqueror. History remembers Mehmed as the genius strategist and the successful enemy of Constantinople, claiming it as the new capital of the Ottoman Empire and renaming it Istanbul. Such a pivotal historic character requires a strong and magnificent presence, and Üzümoğlu certainly delivers.
The other side of the coin is the crumbling and increasingly barren Eastern Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine XI is still a strong and terrifying ruler, but the state of his empire diminishes in the shadow of its ancestors. The walls of Constantinople are strong, but it rots from within.
Every supporting character is represented by a skilled actor, fully immersing the audience in the middle ages. Their skills are paired with the masterful directing of Emre Şahin. A great deal of care and artistry went into the production of this series that is unrivaled by other documentaries of its kind. The authenticity of the historical art is mesmerizing, and it adds power to each scene. It serves as a tangible feel to the historians’ commentary.
It is hard to find a solid flaw in this docuseries as it brings together two major themes of storytelling: a historical account of the events and a thrilling medieval wartime struggle. The only downfall is the length of investment required. It is not a series for those who want a satisfying conclusion at the end of each episode. It will take you all the way to the end of the season before allowing you to witness Mehmed claiming his throne in The Red Apple, but the journey is even more satisfying for it.