Monday, June 29, 2009

Through the Opera Glasses - 21 - Merlin

I've just started watching a new series that debuted in Canada and the US on June 21st, but which aired originally on BBC One on Sept. 20th of last year.

When I saw previews of this show, I had the wild hope of falling for it, even as I prepared myself for the worst.

You see, I'm a massive King Arthur fan. That often doesn't bode well for Arthur adaptations, because a very clear Arthur and the whole cast of characters live inside of me.

I'm more in the Arthur-in-Dark-Age-Britain camp. I like it when the story is set during the changeover from Roman rule to the various tribes of Britain duking it out amongst themselves before the Saxons invade.

But if we're going to go for medieval, shooting the series on location at a real French castle is fantastic.

In a previous rant here at Through the Opera Glasses, I bemoaned the pain of sitting through productions with sucky costumes.

Can you hear me sigh the sigh of delight with these lovelies? Just look at King Uther, played by Anthony Head.

The Arthur who lives inside my mind has dark hair, but I won't quibble with Bradley James. I like pretty much everything about him.

The show's creators have taken all the normal relationships between the characters and reset them so that Arthur and Merlin can be contemporaries. I actually like all the dynamics that have evolved so far, believe it or not.

And what do you mean, you don't have an Arthur who lives inside your mind...?

Merlin arrives in Camelot to find that magic is outlawed by King Uther, and is punishable by death. He must keep his magical abilities a secret as he is chosen to serve Prince Arthur.

Merlin is played by Colin Morgan, also very likeable.

The traditional Merlin-the-wise-man figure is given to Gaius, Camelot's court physician played by Richard Wilson. He becomes Merlin's mentor, especially as he discovers Merlin's secret.

The dynamic between Arthur and Merlin really sets the tone for the whole series. If their relationship hadn't worked, there really wouldn't be a series.

But there is a perfect blend of youthful competition, respect for one another as they learn what the other is made of, and fierce loyalty that grows between them.

The character of Morgana - usually a sinister figure bent on destroying Arthur - appears here as King Uther's ward, a sister of sorts to Arthur and so far a caring and very likeable woman. Morgana is played by Katie McGrath.

She is served by Gwen, another twist on the legend. Here Gwen comes from the lower town, and seems to have a crush on Merlin.

As always happens in medieval stories - and why I like them so much - living in royal circles is a tightrope act of staying out of life-or-death trouble. Here Gwen discovers how easy it is to have the tables turned on her.

Gwen is played by Angel Coulby.

Did I mention there's great sword fighting? If there's anything I love as much as ballet, it's sword fighting. And with these beauties - not so much rapiers. I need that ringing sound of real blades knocking together.

You can check out the series sites at BBC's Merlin or NBC's Merlin.

Here's the trailer for the series. Enjoy!

Ms Snarky Pants says I hadn't even heard about this series! Some Arthur fangurl I am!

Ailurophile says I'm a huge King Arthur fan too. Thanks for this very interesting review.

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff says Wow, that looks like a fascinating series. One of my favorite books ever is The Mists of Avalon.


MsSnarkyPants said...

I am officially intrigued. You have intrigued me. I hadn't even heard about this series! Some Arthur fangurl I am!

Ailurophile said...

I'm a huge King Arthur fan too. Thanks for this very interesting review. I'm looking forward to watching Merlin..

Have a good week :)

Thomma Lyn said...

Wow, that looks like a fascinating series. One of my favorite books ever is The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, in which Morgaine is a compelling and sympathetic character.

Travis said...

There are some things I like about this series...such as the costumes and the acting. The show seems to have enough of a budget that the effects are reasonably good. And the stunts and sword fighting are quite good.

However, the setting is a bit too clean. And I'm not sure if I care for the resetting of the legend. But I think these quibbles are minor. I am enjoying the show. King Arthur has always been Richard Harris. Now have you read Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionnavar Tapesty? It uses the Arthurian legend beautifully.

Julia Smith said...

Ms Snarky Pants - You're still a fangurl. I know you are!

Ailurophile - King Arthur fan, I salute you.

Thomma Lyn - I haven't read that one, but I did see the TV adaptation and enjoyed parts of it.

Travis - Another book I haven't read, but I tend to avoid reading too many Arthur stories. I have one in my head that I hope to share, if you know what I mean...

Susan said...

I just found this series on CBC too. What did you think? I thought production values fairly high, but the dialogue was awful. It really is! and yet they have such fabulous actors. *sigh* I have another episode to watch, but I'm disappointed more than anything, and yet other bloggers over in the UK loved this!! Tell me if I'm wrong!