Starz’s Camelot – First Impressions

Starz’s take on Arthurian legend, Camelot, has already aired three episodes. Rather than review the episodes, I thought we’d try something different today. Let’s take a look at the series and what it offers viewers.

First though, let’s take a quick…

Overview

It’s very much unlike our Arthur-For-Kids UK version, Merlin. For a start, Uther Pendragon is killed in the first act, the ultimate act of treachery by his estranged daughter Morgan. Merlin (played as bald and politically shrewd by Joseph Feinnes) takes command of the situation by finding Uther’s illigitimate son Arthur and arranging to make him king.

Morgan, meanwhile, strikes a sexy alliance with King Lot (played by the barbaric James Purefoy). This works to her advantage for a while, but the odds are stacked against her – so when she clashes with him, he ties her to a post in a misty moor and leaves her overnight.

Arthur is busily ticking all the Arthurian legend boxes – he’s retrieved the sword from the stone, which Merlin turns into the medieval equivalent of a PR coup for the inexperienced king. And he also begins aggressively pursuing the stunning Guinevere, seducing her on the morning of her wedding to on of his own champions. Uh-oh!

Twists and Turns

There are a handful of interesting twists on the King Arthur tale here. Arthur was raised by commoners in this version, the illigitimate son of Uther. This contrasts nicely with Morgan, a strong and ambitious woman whose claim to the throne is usurped by Arthur’s appearance. It’s too early to tell how I feel about Morgan yet, but she’s ruthless and I think we’ll end up gleefully following her attempts to de throne the new king. Just don’t let her cook for you!

Arthur’s obviously an aspiring romeo, which gives Starz their opportunity for plenty of T&A. In the first episode he’s seen romping with his brother’s girlfriend, and by episode three he’s smitten by Guinevere. It’ll be interesting to see if he continues to ‘plough’ the women of Camelot, or if he’ll remain fixated on Guinevere. If he does, there may be some tension in the kingdom when the truth comes out.

Merlin’s another character worth watching. He’s highly political, and even though Arthur gave a very rousing coronation speech, Merlin’s clearly the power behind the throne. In fact, the big question surrounds exactly how much magical power Merlin holds. We’ve seen him pull some amazing political moves, but only a little bit of the wizardry we expect. And would it be too much to ask for a traditional Merlin with long scraggy beard?

Camelot itself is not the castle that Uther ruled from, but a ruin from a bygone age which Merlin intends to reinvigorate. I love this idea, and I hope that the series spends some time building on the ideas of nobility that this kingdom will come to represent. With Arthur as the non-barbarian figurehead, I anticipate some ideological battles with Merlin in the future too.

Medieval overkill?

In a week or so, HBO’s newest drama, Game Of Thrones will air. Another medieval epic series, it raises the question of what we get from these dramas? In the post 9/11 world, television was flooded with spy dramas because international terrorism was in the national consciousness. But what will a plethora of medieval power struggles bring to the table?

So far though, Camelot has played gritty when it needs to – the murder of Arthur’s adoptive mother proves that the series isn’t afraid to raise the stakes when needs to. But there’s a nice balance of camaraderie and chivalry and politics. Three episodes in and Camelot hasn’t fallen foul of the same crutches that have turned Merlin in the UK into such a sham. It’ll be interesting to watch how the series develops and if there’s enough source material to work from. So far though, the signs are strong that Camelot might be a solid series.

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