Today I bring you a review and a query. Both of them revolve around a series that recently aired on Starz, some of you might have heard of it, called ‘Camelot’. This was something of a replacement for ‘Spartacus’ given the delays on that show due to replacing the lead actor. Given the success of that series it is little wonder they decided to take a risk on another swords-y period piece.
‘Camelot’ is what is affectionately referred to as a reimagining of the Arthurian legends, in this case the writers claimed to have used ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ as a major influence. After seeing the show I would be willing to debate them on that, it varies widely from the established characters and stories. It is about as close to what we know as ‘Smallville’ was to the Superman mythology. This approach is not always a bad thing, and can sometimes yield a fresh new approach to material that is too well-known or stale. So I approached this show warily, but with some degree of optimism.
The show itself is reasonably well plotted, the actors do a decent job, some better than others. The production values are nice, giving us nice locations and presenting a world that seems real. All in all this is not a bad show, it has all the elements of something good. I’ll even go a bit further to say that people who have no vested interest in Arthurian legends should find little to bother them here.
The story revolves around King Arthur, Merlin, and Morgan (also known as Morgan Le Fey in other sources). In this version Morgan is still Arthur’s half-sister, by their father Uther in this version as opposed to being linked through their mother Igraine in the legends. If this seems like a drastic and pointless change then I beg you to look away because there are others to come. When Uther dies his hold on the throne falls to his son Arthur that was spirited away by Merlin as a baby to receive the ‘right’ kind of education. Morgan does not know about her brother and tries to take the throne for herself by bargaining with Uther’s fiercest enemy.
Meanwhile we see Merlin seek out Arthur, who in this version is a pampered playboy instead of a long-suffering squire. He informs the young man of his heritage and destiny, convinces him to come along to claim the throne, and Bob’s your uncle. Thus begins his journey from boy to man to king. Naturally his half-sister is not a fan, and ends up being his worst enemy despite his many attempts to win her over.
Despite feeling a little annoyed by some of the arbitrary changes, there was really only one thing about this show that irked me to no end. Actually a series of things all revolving or related to that one thing, and that one thing is King Arthur himself. How he is written, the plots surrounding him, and the actor that played him. All these factors really turned me away from the show.
Allow me to elaborate. In this version Arthur is a pampered playboy, as I said before. His older brother Kay is the long-suffering and hard-working one, in essence they reversed their characters in a way from some of the versions we have seen. Now I know that some of the legends portray his brother Kay as a stand-up guy, but nearly every legend portrays Arthur as a dedicated and hard-working youth. Our first shot of him in this series? Naked on a blanket with his brother’s girlfriend.
Our once and future king, ladies and gentlemen.
This continues through the series. Arthur falls in love with Guinevere, but surprise, only she is betrothed to his loyal knight Leontes. A noble friend to Arthur who saved his life earlier in the series. How does Arthur repay him, yes, by sleeping with his fiance before their wedding. Maybe it was his way of telling Leontes that he looked at him like a brother? Now in keeping with the animated ‘Sword in the Stone’ approach we are told that Arthur’s positive traits are his cleverness and the broad-mindedness that will allow him to be a good king. I could accept this, except that all of his social reforms seem to come from Merlin, and for someone so clever he is remarkably blind to his half-sister’s actions.
Write a character like Arthur is fraught with the difficulties of staying true to the source material and still making him interesting and fresh. Unfortunately it seems like ‘Camelot’ through out the baby with the bath water, Arthur is barely recognizable as the character I loved in stories growing up. How can he, or how can we for that matter, feel any degree of resentment towards Lancelot and Guinevere for their betrayal of a man who did the same thing twice to two of his closest friends? Early in the series the writers have undercut Arthur’s morality and sense of duty, and I seriously doubt that anything they include can win it back.
Okay, so those are my objections that at least attempt to be objective. This next part is all subjective, all me. I hate the actor that plays Arthur, Jamie Campbell Bower is totally unsuited to the role. His acting is unimpressive, he does not inspire my imagination as a warrior or a leader. Obviously he does not look the part of a knight, looking more like he should be playing the role of Guinevere, but furthermore he never steps up to deliver the sense of command that Arthur was supposed to have. Looking back over other Arthurs in film and television they all were commanding. Even the BBC show ‘Merlin’ which is even more of a ‘Smallville’ approach than this series has someone in the role of Arthur who looks and acts the part. Bower is the weakest link of the acting, and his character is the weakest link of the writing. For a show that centers around him that is a very major flaw.
Now for my query. Is it alright for me to dismiss this show because of my gripes? I’m interested in your opinions on the matter. While I am not an Arthurian scholar, I do appreciate the stories and see the changes in this series as getting away from the core ideas of the origins. Is this justified or am I just being a bitter ‘fan boy’? Let me know how you feel about the idea and the series itself, I look forward to seeing where most of you stand.
Anyway, personal griping aside, if you do not mind an effeminate, poorly written and acted Arthur in your Arthurian stories then check this out. Although the main course is lacking the side courses and presentation are very nice.