Created by Chris Chibnall and Michael Hirst
Starring Joseph Fiennes, Jamie Campbell Bower, Eva Green, Tamsin Egerton and Claire Forlani
Is it weird that I originally thought this would be a biopic of the Kennedy administration?
Starz, still on its kick “adult drama” versions of classic stories, latched onto this co-production of the legend of King Arthur. The series sets about humanizing these mythic characters to modern day sensibilities, meaning the good guys become flawed and the bad sympathetic.
It generally works. Merlin takes an “end justifies the means” approach to his actions, which weighs on his conscious. Morgan, the antagonist and Arthur’s half-sister, becomes someone to feel sorry for with her past as well as her occasional good deed. All the actors do an excellent job portraying their given characters, with particular stand outs from Joseph Fiennes as Merlin and Eva Green as Morgan. If only Arthur weren’t so detestable.
That’s right. The hero is probably the most repugnant character in the series. He’s not all bad. Arthur tackles issues from border protection to institutionalized rape as morally righteous as one could expect. He even maintains a naivety about the allegiance of his half-sister. He just can’t keep his pants on, from the first episode onward. Guinevere is no better. It’s not an actor problem, as Jamie Campbell Bower (Arthur) and Tamsin Egerton (Guinevere) capably act what they’re given. The star football player and cheerleader of the series are of course the most annoying characters of the show.
Luckily though, their annoyance peaks by the beginning of disc two, which starts more episodes centric to the other characters. While the first few episodes are still decent despite Arthur, the show picks up here when concentrating less on the love triangle or Arthur’s whining and more on the hard steps in building this new kingdom of peace and justice. This includes an excellent reimagining of the Lady of the Lake portion of the Arthurian legend, which leads the audience through a complete 360 on their feelings towards Merlin.
Speaking of Merlin, the show’s approach to magic and Merlin’s use of it is particularly intriguing. Magic becomes a primal force that both weighs a heavy cost on the body as well as becomes a powerful addiction that is difficult to overcome. Morgan gives in and suffers the consequences, and Merlin struggles with the urge while the need for great power becomes ever more urgent.
The world in general is well built. All of the local politics seem fleshed out. The look with costuming, props, set design and the Ireland locale help put the whole feel together. Some of the clothing or weaponry may not be technically accurate to the time period, but that’s negligible for the sake of tying the aesthetics together.
Unfortunately for the series, the collection’s title should say “The Complete Series,” as Starz has halted any production for a second season. If the series ended five minutes earlier than it does, it would be a fine, self-contained series. Instead, it has a slight cliffhanger.
Still, Camelot is a decent medieval fantasy series with enough of an ensemble cast to overshadow its weak links for at least a few episodes, and those are worth watching.
The Video and Audio
The series is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound. The series looks vibrant and colorful, particularly when out in the scenic Ireland landscape where much of the series was shot. At least when it’s not covered by subpar CGI, which scenes are thankfully few and far between. The dialog is often drowned out by background music and sounds, making it hard to hear at times.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The three-disc collection comes in a fold-out cardboard set kept in a board case. It’s glossy and sturdy.
The set has a good number of extras, but they’re all pretty mediocre. Most of them are character profiles, even on top of the feature that’s called “character profiles.” Several interview clips are reused from feature to feature. The bloopers are fairly bland. The scene breakdowns are the best, being an actual behind-the-scenes feature showing how things are made. Unfortunately it only covers three scenes.
Overall (Not an Average)
This show could probably have lasted more seasons if it wasn’t plagued with the scheduling conflicts of the cast and crew. The annoyances of certain characters looked as if they would be ironed out with development which doesn’t look like will happen now. It’s better than the BBC Merlin series, but I’m still partial to Sam Neill’s Merlin miniseries. For now, it’s worth a watch to satisfy your swords and sorcery hunger, at least until Game of Thrones hits DVD. In which case, you know what the right choice will be.
The Series 7/10
The Video and Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5/10
Overall (Not an Average) 6.5/10