THE DOVEKEEPERS, a four-hour limited event series from executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, will be broadcast Tuesday, March 31 and Wednesday, April 1 (9:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
The project stars Cote de Pablo, Rachel Brosnahan and Kathryn Prescott in the title dovekeeper roles, Sam Neill as first-century Jewish scholar and historian Josephus, and Diego Boneta as a star warrior of the Jewish army at Masada. The series is based on Alice Hoffman’s bestselling, critically acclaimed historical novel about a group of extraordinary women whose lives intersect in a fight for survival at the siege of Masada.
Historian Flavius Josephus (Sam Neill) sternly informs an anxious Shirah (Cote de Pablo) and Yael (Rachel Brosnahan) that their lives will depend on whether or not they share the truth about Masada with him. [Throughout the two nights of THE DOVEKEEPERS, their stories are told in flashbacks.]
Shirah reveals to Josephus that she was born in Alexandria, Egypt; that she never knew her father; and that her mother was sent from Jerusalem to be a kedeshah, or Temple prostitute. When Temple prostitutes are outlawed, Shirah’s mother gives Shirah her protective amulets and a treasured box detailing ancient rites of magic and herbal remedies and sends her to take refuge with a distant relative in Jerusalem. Shirah became a nursemaid to the young Amram and Yael (Maia Attard), the children of Josef Bar Elhanan (Manuel Cauchi), a widower.
Yael tells Josephus that her father, Josef, forever blamed Yael for her mother’s death during childbirth, but that Shirah was like a mother to her. Though, after Shirah becomes pregnant with the child of her married lover, Eleazar Ben Ya’ir (Mido Hamada), Eleazar’s aggrieved wife, Channa (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), informs Josef and others of Shirah’s adultery, leading the Elders to cast Shirah out of Jerusalem and into the desert. Yael explains that when she and Amram (Diego Boneta) got older, he was gentle and protective of her, despite becoming a Sicarii assassin like their father.
When the Jews in Jerusalem refuse to give their land and allegiance to Rome, the 10th Roman Legion, led by General Flavius Silva (Sam Hazeldine) and his second-in-command, Claudius (Kenneth Spiteri), begin killing and enslaving Jews, driving the rest out of Jerusalem. Aware that the Romans are specifically searching for him, Amram leaves Jerusalem, but he first enlists his fellow Sicarii, Jachim Ben Simon (Luke Roberts), to escort Josef and Yael, in addition to Ben Simon’s wife Sia (Marama Corlett), during their dangerous journey through the desert.
Shirah recounts how she was saved, after being exiled to the desert, by a wealthy, robust and good man from Moab named Sa’Adollos (Andrei Claude), who married her, raised her child, Aziza (Kathryn Prescott), as his own, fathered Shirah’s son, Adir (Andre Agius), and years later, trained Aziza to be an able warrior. Despite feeling grateful to Sa’Adollos, Shirah has an abiding love for Eleazar, with whom she continues to communicate via messages carried by doves. After Shirah receives an encouraging note from Eleazar, she leaves Sa’Adollos for good, forcing the confused Aziza and Adir to journey with her to Masada. En route, Shirah insists that Aziza remove her masculine attire. She raised Aziza as a boy, and now, without explanation, she wants Aziza to dress and behave like the girl she is. Aziza is stunned and distressed; she wants to remain a warrior.
Meanwhile, Yael and Sia form a sisterly bond in the desert, but soon, to Sia’s despair, Ben Simon initiates a passionate affair with Yael, who is completely bewitched by him. However, Ben Simon’s love and allegiance to Sia is clear when Sia falls ill. Yael tells the distraught Ben Simon that she knows of a medicinal flower that grows in the desert that could cure Sia, and he begs Yael to find it. Arming Yael with his dagger for protection, Yael begins a frantic and perilous search for the flower. The next day when she returns with it, Yael is anguished to find Sia and Ben Simon in a death embrace. Josef, who is more disgusted with Yael than ever as a result of her affair, buries Sia and Ben Simon, and they continue their journey. When Yael and Josef are tracked down by Amram’s warrior friends, including Uri (Zebulon Simoneau), they are brought to Masada, where they are welcomed by an elated Amram.
Shirah arranges for Yael to be assigned to join her and Aziza in their role as dovekeepers. Yael doesn’t recognize Shirah, who decides to keep Yael and Aziza in the dark about their former connection. Aziza is intrigued to learn that Yael is Amram’s sister, as Aziza is having a secret relationship with him. Meanwhile, Shirah is relishing her own clandestine relationship with Eleazar.
When some of the Roman scouts dispatched by Silva to find Jews who are hiding in the desert start to come closer to Masada, Eleazar, Amram and their fellow warriors attack the Roman camps and bring home spoils of war. The plunder includes a slave, Wynn (Diarmaid Murtagh), whom the Romans captured in a faraway land “in the North,” who ends up being consigned to help the dovekeepers with their heavy work. Most at Masada treat the slave like a savage, but Yael is kind to him, and he is immediately smitten with her.
Amram is deeply saddened when his friend is killed alongside him in battle against the Romans and is also troubled to learn that Yael is pregnant with Ben Simon’s child. Amram vows not to abandon Yael, who shares that she is happy to be carrying this child, despite feeling haunted by Sia. Shirah gives Yael a mystical remedy to rid her of Sia’s spirit, and, after being kicked out of her home by her father for being pregnant, Yael moves in with Shirah and her two children. After Yael gives birth, Aziza is jealous upon witnessing Shirah dote on Yael and the child and give Yael one of her prized amulets for protection.
Despite warnings from Shirah, Yael begins a romantic liaison with the towering yet tender slave Wynn. Knowing that the Romans won’t stop their aggression, he proposes that she and her daughter run away with him prior to their arrival at Masada. Yael can’t bring herself to leave Masada and selflessly attempts to help Wynn flee. However, he’s spotted and is jailed, with no more access to the dovecote.
Silva and thousands of soldiers from the 10th Legion ominously approach Masada, yet the warriors at Masada are still hopeful that they’ll persevere.
Josephus interrupts these accounts to chide Shirah, Yael and their people for not having paid homage to Rome in order to maintain their freedom and save their lives. Yael replies that they wouldn’t betray their faith, and Shirah rebukes Josephus for his choice to align with the Romans despite being Jewish.