TV

Marco Polo is coming for Game of Thrones

First look at Netflix’s big budget sex’n’swordplay epic, Marco Polo

For the majority of us, the words ‘Marco Polo’ are most commonly associated with an inexplicable swimming pool-based game played by US children. But don’t worry: Netflix has not started pumping millions of dollars into shows about niche aquatic pastimes. In fact, the company’s latest series tells the story of the 13th-century Italian explorer from which the game gets its name.

The real Marco Polo led what experts in understatement would refer to as a ‘fairly colourful life’. While plying his trade as a merchant in Venice, Polo bumped into murderous loon and head of the Mongol Empire Kublai ‘grandson of Genghis’ Khan, and subsequently followed him back to Asia for various bloodthirsty adventures, becoming the first Westerner to document life in China in the process. It’s this basic outline that lays the foundation for Netflix’s take on the story, which sees Italian newcomer Lorenzo Richelmy star as Marco, with British actor Benedict Wong as Khan, and a supporting cast including Twin Peaks’ Joan Chen.

With its blend of sex, political intrigue, outlandish costumes and extreme violence, Marco Polo represents a clear shot in the direction of Game Of Thrones. Netflix has spent the past few years marking itself out as a serious rival to the likes of HBO, but while Orange Is The New Black and House Of Cards broke boundaries in intelligent comedy and drama, Marco Polo is a massive leap in terms of sheer scale. How do we know? Well, firstly the Weinstein brothers are producing the series, and secondly ShortList visited the set at Pinewood Studios, Malaysia, earlier this year and witnessed, among other things, vast Mongol villages, luxurious palaces (including Khan’s famous ‘Pleasure Dome’) and some spectacular martial arts-based action scenes.

“It’s all based on the books Polo wrote,” explains the show’s creator John Fusco. “We have the advantage that Marco was an actual person. That gives us a treasure trove of materials to work on.” All indications suggest that “treasure trove” could lead to plenty of viewers picking China over Westeros come Christmas…

Marco Polo premieres on Netflix on 12 December; netflix.com

(Images: Netflix)