Starz/Channel 4, February 25 & April 1 (US) June 11 (UK)
The death of Uther Pendragon, king of the Britons, causes Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) to track down the king’s lost son, Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower), and put him on the throne, only to meet the opposition of the king’s daughter, Morgan le Fay (Eva Green).
It’s unfortunate that Camelot comes so hot on the heels of the complex Game of Thrones, as casual viewers could easily confuse their superficial similarities. This latest retelling of the well-known Arthurian legends is a more earthy venture than the BBC’s lightweight teen Merlin show, although this one presents viewers with a teen Arthur—Jamie Campbell Bower (New Moon), obviously aimed at pulling in the Twilight demographic.
The show was co-created by Chris Chibnall (Torchwood’s infamous ‘Cyberwoman’ episode) and he scripted these opening instalments. It shows: characters define themselves and each other, their plans and their motivations, in rather leaden dialogue. Thankfully, this tendency passes after the first few scenes, offering instead another variation on the traditional Arthurian back story, although fans of Campbell Bower probably think the story is a rip-off from Star Wars.
This is an effective opening episode that leaps into life in its final scenes when the stakes are personalised and raised. It all takes place in a greener, less varied landscape than in Game of Thrones, but it does fall into the trap of occasionally being ‘heritage TV’, dressed up for an American audience.
There are other dangers awaiting Camelot: it has to be careful to avoid the ‘teen Arthur’ trap, it’s got to steer clear of the occasional Monty Python vibe (the peasant who is a witty, sceptical witness to the drawing of the sword from the stone in episode two), and the cast need to be wary of going too far over-the-top.
Despite that, one of the undoubted joys of the show is Eva Green’s wacky scenery chewing and Joseph Fiennes’ struggling to bring some mystery to his bald-headed, seemingly immortal Merlin. Like other recent US cable shows, Camelot proves its ‘grown up’ credentials with frequent sex scenes and gory bloodletting, but it does a good job of connecting the personal with the political. The second episode ends with some murky mystical overtones, suggesting that future instalments might explore some of the dark, English mythology seen in the mid-1980s’ Robin of Sherwood.
Verdict: Grimmer than the BBC’s Merlin, but not quite as complex as HBO’s Game of Thrones, Starz’s Camelot makes an effective contribution to the current vogue for medieval mysticism.
Episodes 1-2: 7/10
Brian J. Robb