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In the behind the scenes promo Starz has been showing for its new series Camelot, Joseph Fiennes says, "I think people should watch this show because it's not a musical." If you have followed me at all here on the blog or through the podcast, you know that I don't consider not being a musical to ever be a good thing. But I watched the sneak peak of the premiere that aired on February 25th anyway.
When compared to the most famous film and television adaptations of Arthurian legend, Camelot will probably be considered the gritty version. It lacks the shiny armor of Excalibur, the lightheartedness of Merlin, the cuteness of the Sword in the Stone, and, yes, the music of Lerner and Lowe's Camelot. Camelot itself is an old Roman fortress, now overgrown and in ruins. Magic, when used, seems as if it is actually painful. There is no simple hand waving or muttered incantation. The people are all barbaric and a little but dirty. Basically, it tries to get closer to the reality of the historical setting, while not dismissing the more fantastical elements of the legend, but presenting them in a way that fits within it.
However, as much as the producers have tried to sell this series as the version of the legend that we have never seen before, it seems a lot more faithful, at least to what I'm familiar with, than most of the adaptations I have seen in recent years. For example: the only departure I could see in terms of the details of the legend was the fact that Morgan is presented as Uther's daughter and Igraine's step-daughter, instead of the other way around. So far, this fact doesn't seem to make a great deal of difference, and I am not really certain I understand the reasoning behind it. Perhaps it just simplified things a bit more for them. Personally, for a series like this, I am not really sure why a lot of changes would have to be made, other than just making changes for their own sake. After all, a story with as much incest and rape as Arthur's is already pretty gritty and twisted, right?
The highlight of the premiere was Morgan, played by Eva Green, and, to a lesser extent, James Purefoy's King Lot. Sexy, twisted, and oh so deliciously evil - they seem to embody everything this series is trying to achieve. Plus, Morgan has the best costume and makeup (though that is clearly aided by the actress's own beautiful and interesting features). Quite frankly, Morgan is intriguing in a way that the other characters are not, and Lot is her perfect sidekick -- ever amused and attracted to her anger, bitterness and lust for power and violence. Hell, so am I. Her motives are completely understandable. At one point, she confronts her step-mother about allowing her father to abandon her, only to get the response: "No queen questions her king." I damn near cheered when she said "And I thought my opinion of you couldn't get any lower." It's hard not to be on this lady's side.
Merlin is a man with a plan that he's apparently been cooking up since before Arthur was even conceived. Essentially, everyone is a bunch of barbarians, including Arthur's father, Uther, and he wants a civilized king to rule a more civilized land. This is why he ripped baby Arthur from his mother's arms and had the child adopted by Ector and his wife, who would raise an educated and respectable young man suitable to rule Camelot. "We are going to build a land full of hope and honor, where fear is extinguished, to which people will flock from far and wide, seeking out our beacon of light." That's the mission statement Merlin sells to Arthur.
While, ultimately, we know how things work out, it is unclear at this point whether Arthur is up to the task. He's far more concerned with girls than with honor, fighting, and politics. He's also a bit spoiled. Merlin also points out that, while he has visions of the future involving Arthur and all he is meant to accomplish, those visions could change. "Destiny has to be won," as he puts it. And when Arthur has a dream about sex with a woman on a beach, Merlin seems more than a little concerned about who she is. (If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that she was Guinevere, and he is afraid of her bringing about the eventual downfall of the realm, as Guinevere does.) His adopted brother, Kay, already seems to be more in line with what those of us raised on T.H. White would expect from a young Arthur. He has Uther's most loyal knights in his corner though, and while vastly outnumbered by the forces working against him, he is honestly willing to try and achieve the goals Merlin has laid out for him.
The pilot probably won me over just enough to keep watching, and mostly just for Eva Green and James Purefoy. It was the bare minimum of what I require from a first episode. Namely, it is about something I already have interest in and a few interesting characters that I am willing to follow. Joseph Fiennes was also very good as Merlin. The rest of the cast is on the pretty but bland side. I am not really sold on the actor who plays Arthur, Campbell Bower, and Claire Forlani, as Igraine, seems a bit out of her depth. (Plus, the fact that she is now old enough to be playing anyone's mother depresses me a bit.) There are plenty of bare breasts and attractive men to provide distraction though.
Starz will re-air the Camelot premiere, along with another new episode, Friday, April 1st at 10:00PM.