The Arthurian legend is retold once again in the Starz series Camelot, currently airing on Channel 4. Taking its cue from other recent dramatic reinterpretations of historical tales and myths (The Tudors, Spartacus, Rome, etc.) this is a dark and gritty version of the legend.
Or at least, it tries to be, at any rate. Unfortunately it sometimes comes across as a post-watershed Merlin, with additional boobs and swearing. This isn’t a bad thing, however, and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be gained from watching this set, which contains all ten episodes.
The cast are pretty strong overall, with Joseph Fiennes’ Merlin a particular highlight. A much more Machiavellian schemer than the spell-casting mentor he is normally portrayed as, this Merlin, who refuses to use magic, planned everything from the start, even down to arranging the conception of Arthur, in an attempt to unite the whole of Britain.
Other cast highlights include former Bond girl Eva Green’s portrayal of the evil Morgan – all heavy eye make-up, menacing looks and cryptic dialogue – and Peter Mooney’s likeable and dependable portrayal of Kay, Arthur’s elder brother. The weakest link, sadly, is Tamsin Egerton’s Guinevere, who frequently struggles to carry the more dramatic scenes that she is required to handle.
The season kicks off with an engaging pilot, followed by a strong second episode, detailing Arthur’s rise to his coronation. Unfortunately, the weakest subplot of the show, which involves the adulterous Guinevere, grows in importance from then on, until it concludes at the end of the season in all too predictable fashion.
Other than that, Camelot builds in strength as it continues, with Jamie Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd) developing into the role of Arthur with confidence. As the season ends with a brilliant (yet frankly bonkers) season finale, filled with unexpected twists and turns, and a cliffhanger, it’s hard not to be frustrated at the show’s recent cancellation.
Camelot was created and overseen by Chris Chibnall, who also ran Torchwood’s first two seasons, and tonally there is a certain similarity between the two shows, despite the very different settings. It’s a series that is occasionally brilliant and always watchable, but you can’t quite shake the nagging feeling that it could be better than it is.
Regardless of the occasionally clunky dialogue and the often two-dimensional supporting characters, if you like your historical drama entertaining and packed with swords, sorcery and a healthy dash of off-the-wall lunacy, then Camelot is well worth a look.
Released on DVD on Monday 1st August 2011 by Entertainment One.