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Film still - The name of the rose two people stand in front of a row of crosses in the dark in a cemetery
Image: 11 Marzo Film/Palomar/TMG

'The Name of the Rose' hits the small screen

Jochen Kürten db
May 24, 2019

Umberto Eco’s bestselling middle ages murder mystery involving devious monks and a merciless inquisitor is set to enthrall an even bigger worldwide audience as a miniseries adaptation debuts in the US and Germany.


Anyone suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal symptoms after the long-running series made its final bow this week, can move right on to a new miniseries set in a dark and hostile past, in this case in a secluded monastery in the early 14th century.

International stars such as legendary character actor John Turturro (Bartin Fink, The Big Lebowski) have helped transform Umberto Eco's bestselling novel, "The Name of the Rose," into an opulent, eight-episode miniseries. Additional female characters, who are non-existent in the novel or the 1986 feature film adaptation, have been included in the miniseries.

The €26 million ($29 million) production, which debuted this week on SundanceTV in the US and today on Sky in Germany, might just pay off. The German-Italian co-production is certainly one of the more spectacular series of the past months, with the Los Angeles Times beaming that "'The Name of the Rose' does Umberto Eco with a dash of 'Game of Thrones'." The Times also praised its "attempt to give some respect, history, agency and psychology to its female characters."

Church history as murder mystery

In 1980, the Italian semiotics professor's debut novel hit the bookstores and became an instant worldwide hit. The story had something for everyone: A crime and detective story in a historical setting; a veritable genre picture; a literary puzzle; and a cornucopia of cultural signs and references. First and foremost, however, "The Name of the Rose" was, for most readers, a gripping novel about church history, religious wars and the Enlightenment.

The story in a nutshell, and which the minseries broadly sticks to: In the early 14th century, Franciscan monk William von Baskerville is called to a Benedictine monastery to mediate in a quarrel between various Christian currents at a time when the Popes resided in the French city of Avignon. William and his young novice Adso von Melk also investigate a series of mysterious deaths.

In 1986, in the film version of Eco's complex literary detective story, James Bond actor Sean Connery played the role of the book's main character, William of Baskerville. 

Film The Name of the Rose, people on horses in a courtyard
Mysteriois murders unfold in a monestery in the Alps Image: 11 Marzo Film/Palomar/TMG

While the 650-page original was a nail-biting history-science-religious thriller, the two-hour film of the same name, produced by Bernd Eichinger and directed by Jean Jacques Annaud, was entertaining enough but could never emulate the book. 

But in its new eight-part format, the deeper political and theological currents of the 1980 novel have a chance to more fully play out. Meanwhile, the Italian location settings are magnificent, and the strong cast of English speaking actors have ensured an international audience.

Films based on books

This miniseries is the latest of several serial literary adaptations that have hit the small screen, for better of for worse

Highlights coming up on streaming services include an adaptation of Gabriel García Marquez' novel "100 Years of Solitude;" and the Jules Verne classic, "Around the World in 80 days."

film still Name of the Rose , Sean Connery
Sean Connery played a wily Franciscan monk in the 1986 film adaptation of "In the Name of the Rose" Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Entertaining as adaptations from literature may be, the audience should not conclude that series are the continuation of literature by other means. Some fans seem to wrongly think that TV series continue what writers once started, that they are Balzac and Tolstoy for the 21st century.

Selling a brand

Nonetheless, In the Name of the Rose promises to attract fans of both the book and the film, for which Sean Connery won the BAFTA for best actor.

"With 'The Name of the Rose' we are probably offering our customers one of the best-known content brands in a fascinating new edition," says Elke Walthelm, Executive Vice President Content at Sky Deutschland, the German platform on which the series premieres on Friday.

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