Arthur faces problems from the north – but they’re not entirely of his own making…
There’s a lot for Brian Sibley to cram into the hour of story-telling this episode, particularly as it also features a sidetrack back into the original version of The Sword in the Stone for the battle with Madam Mim. It never feels rushed, although the pace is pretty relentless, and you need to be concentrating to make sure that you don’t miss any key plot or character points.
Whereas it rather felt as if David Warner’s Merlyn was the glue binding the story together in the first two episodes (an impression probably derived from the two very different Arthurs who appeared), it’s Paul Ready’s Arthur who feels like the key person here, which is exactly as it should be. The story, after all, is about The Once and Future King, not his mage!
In condensing the book, Sibley concentrates on the elements which feature Arthur (whether directly or indirectly as the subject of the conversations other characters are having), which means that inevitably Morgause may not come across as strongly. However, Kate Fleetwood still makes a considerable impression, both in the early scenes as she relates the tale of Arthur’s birth and in the fateful encounter with Arthur which leads to the birth of Mordred.
As ever with this production, there are some very skilful ways of relaying important information – the battle between Lot and Arthur being a case in point – and with the key players in the tragedy now introduced, I look forward a great deal to the second half of the serial.
Verdict: Once again, the episode skilfully juggles the philosophical and human elements of White’s story. 8/10