This review may contain spoilers.
So, Starz’s Spartacus: Gods Of The Arena has finished, but that hasn’t stopped the channel showcasing its latest epic series, Camelot. While HBO’s Game Of Thrones has been generating a lot of buzz, Starz’s Camelot has been comparatively under the radar, despite its having hired a great cast and crew (formerly of The Tudors) for what appears to be a promising show.
Now, the legend of King Arthur has been portrayed many times. We’ve seen it done in a fantastical way (Excalibur), as a fairytale (First Knight) and as a not-so historically accurate adventure (Bruckheimer’s King Arthur/The Lost Legion). But it has never really been shown as it should have been, as a Dark Ages drama.
The producers of the show have clearly drawn their inspiration from Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord series, as Starz’s Camelot is set not in a magical world, a la the BBC’s Merlin, but a dark, gritty land, where sex, violence and betrayal are commonplace. What else could we have expected or hoped for from a show from the makers of Spartacus: Blood And Sand and The Tudors?
The show opens with the return of Morgan (Casino Royale‘s Eva Green) to the kingdom of her father, Uther Pendragon. Banished to a monastery for the past 15 years, Morgan has returned to claim her father’s kingdom, even if it means committing patricide. With the king dead, Morgan sets herself the task of taking over the kingdom by exiling Queen Igraine (Claire Forlani), killing Uther loyalists and immediately striking an alliance with Uther’s main rival, King Lot (the excellent James Purefoy).
There is, however, one thing standing in her way, Merlin.
The makers of Camelot, including The Tudors‘ Michael Hirst, expertly blend Arthurian legend (Uther turning into the Duke of Cornwall to seduce and impregnate Igraine) and reality, to create a world where magic exists, but is more than glowing eyes and enchantments. Playing him with a wink in his eye, Joseph Fiennes’ famous wizard is a mixture of warrior monk and sorcerer. Merlin acts not only as an advisor to kings, but as a prophet who is determined not to see Britain descend into chaos and civil war. As Merlin says, “I can do things that others cannot. Is that magic?”
Key to his plan is Uther’s illegitimate son, Arthur, who was hidden at birth and raised by Ector (Sean Pertwee), so he could be free of Uther’s barbaric influences. Arthur has been raised to be a good man, but that doesn’t stop him from sleeping with his adoptive brother Kay’s girlfriend.
Despite this, Kay sees something in his little brother and remains loyal to him, once he learns he is the once and future King. Joining Arthur and Merlin on their quest to retake the kingdom, Kay looks set to be the first of Arthur’s knights, as well as his moral compass.
Playing Arthur is Twilight‘s Jamie Campbell Bower, who may not look as you’d imagine the legendary king of Britain, but is ideal in that he is full of the naivety, self-doubt and relative innocence that this role requires. Time will tell if he can grow into the role, but thus far it is a promising start. He is far too pretty for his own good, though, and genuinely surprised me, as I honestly believed he would be the weak link in this show.
It is, however, the older, more experienced British actors that steal the show. Joseph Fiennes and Sean Pertwee are both great, but it is clearly James Purefoy (Solomon Kane, Ironclad), who is having the most fun. Filling Lot with the same arrogance and cockiness as he did Mark Antony in Rome, Purefoy looks like he’s having a ball. And why wouldn’t he? He’s waving swords, having sex with Eva Green and rolling his eyes and telling King Arthur to fuck off.
With promises of Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, the forming of the Knights of the Round Table, Camelot has a lot to offer and I can’t wait to see the rest of the show. If you’ve found Merlin a bit too tame for your tastes and prefer your historical shows with a bit more violence, sex, and deceit, then this show is for you.
It is an impressive opening episode, with decent production values, but only time will tell whether it is set to be eclipsed by Game Of Thrones or will be able to stand toe to toe with HBO’s epic show.
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