1 9 8 2 – 1 9 8 3 (Italy/China/USA)
8 x 60 minute episodes
In 1979, Giuliano Montaldo set out to make an ambitious television miniseries, simply titled Marco Polo. Three years later viewers sat down to a lavish production about one of history’s most romantic explorers.
The authentically replicated costumes – designed by Enrico Sabbatini of Italy – were a highlight of the TV series. It took Sabbatini three years to design 4,000 costumes and 3,500 handmade shoes, ranging from Mongolian boots made of goat fur to silken court slippers. His research required two trips to China where he visited museums and talked with historians in an attempt to recreate the 13th century before returning to Rome with thousands of square feet of silk, cotton and cashmere and more than 1,000 furs.
The embroideries were done in China, the hand-hammered armour was made in Italy and the jade was hand-carved for the Mongol belts and the breastplate of Kublai Khan. Even the undergarments were authentic.
It’s no wonder that the cost of the series was in excess of $20m but co-producers RAI- Radiotelevisione Italiana, US sponsors Procter & Gamble and the Chinese Government felt it was worth every dollar.
Some of the filming was done at the Great Wall of China and in Peking’s Forbidden City. Inner Mongolia, Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco were other location sites.
The series was the first Western production to be filmed on location in China since WWII.
There were 180 speaking parts and 5,000 extras were used, including two regiments of the Mongolian Cavalry. Starring in the lead role as Polo himself was newcomer Ken Marshall.
The music was scored by the famous Italian composer Ennio Morricone.
The miniseries won two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Costume Design as well as being nominated for six more. It was generally well-received by its audience too, in spite of some historical inaccuracies: Many palace scenes were set in the Forbidden City, which was built under the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and not completed until about 1420, almost 100 years after Marco Polo’s death.
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