Note: this is a review of sorts and it contains spoilers.
And 9 rings were given to the race of men who above all else desire power
I think most of the readers will remember this quote from the screen adaptation of LOTR
(these words aren't in the book, btw). Through the ages, there have been a lot of men like this, but there also was one woman whose ambition, will to power and mental capacities were at least equal to the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) of these men. Though her reign was many centuries ago, she is still so popular in that part of the world, that recently they made a whole TV series about her.
I'm talking about The Magnificent Century, the most famous of the Turkish TV series, which ran for 4 seasons, had 139 (!) episodes of about 1.5 hour each and was watched by approximately 200 million people all over the world. It's loosely based on the real events which took place during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, hence the name. I'm not really going to discuss the historical Suleiman or the lady who became his wife, but the rather the way they were presented in the series.
First about the plot, I'll try to be as brief as possible but keep in mind the length of the show:)
The story begins when 26 year old Suleiman learns about his father's death and that he is the next sultan. He has to leave the palace where he enjoyed a rather quiet existence with his consort and their young son, his only heir and moves to the capital where he meets a young Christian slave Alexandra whose family was killed by the slavers. Her slain parents come to her at night and make her promise she'll take revenge and thus her war with the whole dynasty starts.
She uses Suleiman and his feelings for her to raise to the heights of power previously thought impossible for one of her status and position. She bears him 4 sons (5 in reality, but the last one died in infancy) and 1 daughter and he frees her and makes her his lawful wedded wife. Still, Hurrem (Alexandra's new name after she converted to Islam) isn't happy because it's Mustafa, the sultan's eldest son who is the crown prince, and not one of her own. And the laws of the Ottoman Empire are harsh: there can be only one, the next sultan will kill his brothers to avoid strife. When the princes grow up, the real fight for power begins...
Sounds exciting, isn't it? And yet, I will admit: I haven't watched the whole show. I watched Season 1, parts of Season 2 and 3, and mostly read about Season 4. I have 2 reasons for it: first, did I tell you it was a soap? I simply have no patience for 139 episodes filled up with epic cat fights and deep drama:) My second reason is the fact that there are really no positive characters in the show, and if there are, they die prematurely of unnatural causes. Evil gets rewarded in the end and about the worst of Hurrem's sons gets the crown (chiefly due to the intrigues of his European convert wife who was always the brain behind his actions).
While it's historically correct, the producers of the show took already less-than-sterling characters and made them even worse. All the women are insufferable b*tches. Those who aren't in the first season, become so as the story progresses. Take the Sultan's first consort, for instance. Mahidevran actually inspires sympathy as she lost everything what was dear to her and was reduced to poverty and nearly begging, until Selim (the next sultan) came to power and restored her rights. And yet her nastiness in the show makes it difficult to feel any sort of pity for her.
Queen Mother in reality was quite friendly to Hurrem, but in the show she is the perfect evil mother-in-law who is so blinded by her hatred of her daughter-in-law that she is ready to sacrifice the lives of her own grandkids when she accuses her of adultery.
Hurrem herself is shown in a sympathetic light (and despite her obvious evilness one can't help rooting for her as we witness her fighting against the incredible odds) but in history this lady had a functioning brain and even ruled the Empire while her husband was busy fighting wars. The whole story of her relationship with painter Leo (who never really existed) is an example of an abysmal stupidity. Her daughter was more interested in political intrigues than in family life but she didn't kill her husband etc etc...
Not that the men are any better. Sultan Suleiman, the ruler of half the world, at home is totally under his wife's thumb and doesn't even realise it. Under her guidance, he alienates his whole family, causes his sister's death by his actions, kills his best friend and executes the most worthy of his sons. He also cheats on her despite all promises while in reality, all historians agree that his marriage was monogamous.
Mustafa is really good and noble, too good for this world actually; loves his brothers and promises not to kill them, loves his wife, loves his kids (probably loved his dog, too, if he had one) that's why he dies. Ibrahim, Suleiman's best friend was a corrupted, power hungry official, but the producers also made him a sadistic bully and an adulterer who broke his wife's heart and ruined the life of his mistress. There is really no historical evidence that he ever cheated on his wife and he wasn't even married to the same lady as in the show. Etc. etc...
Here you can watch a video which is a great example of what one can expect from the series: Hurrem beats up Suleiman's sister Hatice for using black magic on her to revenge the death of her husband Ibrahim. It has English subtitles, btw. Yet, my favourite moment is this one: Hurrem triumphs over her enemies in the end of the second season. Her monologue is like a summary of her whole character, where lust for power and revenge combine perfectly. It's not enough for her to rule in the palace, she will rule the world, her enemies will kneel before her and those who stand in her way will die by fire.
Still, the show has much to offer to those who enjoy drama and the acting is very good. It also illustrates the nature of power in this world. One doesn't get power by being nice and good, one gets power by being ruthless, cruel and lacking conscience. Somewhere there is a lesson for all of us:) You can currently watch the series on YouTube with English subtitles. If you are interested, here's the link to Episode 1.