Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: Camelot "Homecoming"

Non Spoiler Review:
Coming off the success of Spartacus, Starz has opted to tackle the Arthurian legend in the form of its new series, Camelot. Joseph Fiennes stars as Merlin, Eva Green as Morgan, and young Arthur is played by Jamie Campbell Bower. 

The series begins with the return of Morgan to her father Uther's realm after a fifteen year absence, but when he rebuffs her, she sets her plan in motion to kill him and succeed him to the throne. But as anyone might guess, Uther has an illegitimate son that Merlin is anxious to install in his place and usher in a new age of hope and change. Morgan is not pleased.

The first episode requires a lot of set up and putting pieces in place, with introductions and backstory to cover. It succeeds quite well in setting the storyline off on its path while presenting an Arthur as a likable, very intelligent, but naive rascal. Merlin is the manipulative sorcerer, and Eva Green steals the show as the ubër-feminist Morgan attempting to secure what she believes is her birthright through whatever means she can find. 

Camelot also stars James Purfoy (Marc Antony from Rome) as rival warlord Lot, and Claire Forlani as the Queen mother, Igraine, with Peter Mooney as Arthur's foster brother and confidante Kay. So there's quite a lot to offer here for fans of the genre. For myself, Excalibur remains the tried and true version of the Arthurian legend I've loved since childhood, and there are echoes of this in Camelot, with its hearkening back to the Roman heritage in Britain, and the Merlin/Morgan rivalry that frames the narrative. Fortunately there is nothing of the awful cheesiness present in the other current Arthurian series, Merlin.

Set against lush and beautiful British scenery and a Camelot that is, for the moment, an ancient Roman ruin, the series presents a visual contrast to the CGI backgrounds of Spartacus. Especially interesting is the presentation of magic—used quite sparingly, but when it does get trotted out, it shows the physical toll it takes on the body.

I'll definitely be sticking with the series if Spartacus' quality is any indication of what to expect here. Granted there are the growing pains of any new pilot episode, but Homecoming sets it all in motion.

Spoilers Now!
King Uther and his young wife Igraine are surprised at the return of the king's daughter Morgan after a fifteen year education in a nunnery. While she wants to be welcomed back as his daughter, he lets her know in no uncertain terms she's not as long as she continues to hate his new wife.

Later at a feast, a young girl mixes a concoction she tosses into the soup, which poisons Uther. A man rushes through the woods to Camelot, arriving on the scene too late to care for the king. It's Merlin, and he's unable to save him, so he hastily has Uther scribble his name to his last will and testament "For Britain, and for the boy", and even finishes the signature when the king dies. He leaves a grieving Igraine over her dead husband.

The young girl returns to her room and quickly shape-changes (painfully) back into Morgan. With a bloody nose, she rests from what appears to be an arduous use of magic.

The boy in question, Arthur, is having some naked time with a girl by the river, when his brother Kay arrives. The girl in question is Kay's girlfriend, but after a scuffle Kay seems okay with it all and has come to retrieve Arthur, as they have a visitor.

Merlin is waiting for them with Arthur and Kay's parents, Ector and his wife. It's time for truth, as Uther is dead, and guess what, Arthur is his illegitimate son. 

Meanwhile, Morgan is claiming Uther's crown, but a lot of his men have left, and Igraine is to be exiled. Morgan knows she will need to find allies. But the throne room's doors open and King Lot storms in. She had summoned him and introduces herself. His men are slaughtering those loyal to Uther, but she offers him an alliance—marriage and a united kingdom. He laughs at that, but begins to see the logic behind it, and the benefits of forging a union that would bear some legitimacy.

Merlin explains to Arthur how he took him as a baby from Uther to be raised and educated by Ector. Uther was a barbarian, and he dreams of a new kind of king.

Kay comments how their parents always doted on Arthur, now he sees why. But he's loyal to his brother, and when Arthur decides to accompany Merlin, he asks for Kay to come with them. He assures Ector and his foster mother they will always be his parents.

Their cross-country journey begins. Arthur asks Merlin if he's really a sorcerer, but the other denies any use of magic. Merlin does admit to having a vision with Britain in chaos if they should fail. In the morning, they come across the massacre of some villagers, the signs that chaos is already spreading across the land. While Kay wants to pray for them, Arthur gives his first order to keep moving. They take shelter in a village, where Merlin continues the story of Arthur's birth. 

Uther had been attacking the rival warlord, the Duke of Cornwall, but bargained with Merlin to lie with the man's wife, Igraine. So Merlin altered Uther's appearance to that of the Duke, allowing him to sleep with Igraine. His payment was the child that resulted. Arthur doesn't believe in magic, and Merlin says he gave up those powers a long time ago because they cost. With Uther's bloodline, and Ector's guidance, Merlin believes he will be a new kind of king that the land needs.

The next day while stopped on the trail, Arthur is attacked by one of Lot's men. Arthur manages to kill him and Merlin advises they leave quickly before someone discovers him. They arrive at Camelot, a ruined Roman fortress that has impressive real estate on the cliffs. It's abandoned and overgrown with vines, but Merlin knows it was once a seat of power and they will create the future there.

Arthur isn't too impressed with all that, but Merlin brings him to meet his followers, men loyal to Uther and sworn to follow him—Leontes, Ulfius, Brastias and Pellinor. Merlin has summoned Arthur's rivals, including Lot, so that they can all meet the heir to Uther Pendragon.

Morgan and Lot quickly consummate their union and begin scheming. She sends off Igraine in poverty, still blaming her for her own mother's death. But a messenger arrives asking her to attend Uther's son at the ancient fortress of Camelot. Both she and Lot are curious as to what game Merlin is playing.

As he settles in, Arthur wants to know about his father. After calling him a barbarian, Merlin describes him only as unyielding, and that's how Arthur must be, as well. Oh, and by the way, Uther had a daughter.

Morgan is ready to destroy the pretender to her father's thrown as she and Lot arrive at Camelot. Arthur is garbed in kingly attire to receive them. Kay notes Morgan's beauty. She looks on her brother doubtfully. Merlin advises her he has proof of his legitimacy, and Morgan asks why Merlin is doing this to her (implying a previous association). He denies it's personal, and shows his proof—out comes Igraine. The former queen tells the same story Merlin gave about Arthur's conception, and tearfully greets her son after twenty years. Lot walks out in disgust.

That night Arthur talks with his mother about Merlin's sorcery with Uther and the Duke, and she admits that for a moment, she did see Uther's face when she thought she was with her husband. Uther's forces killed the Duke that night, and he claimed her as his wife. Merlin took her baby from her arms and she was forbidden to ever look for him.

Arthur goes walking with Kay, and they come upon a Roman inscription. Arthur is fluent in Latin, of course and it says He who has begun, has the work half done. Leontes follows to ensure their protection. He is loyal to Merlin's ideals for building a new breed of king and offers Arthur advice to trust his instincts.

Arthur goes to bed with a lot on his mind, and dreams of a beach with a nude woman emerging from the water to make love to him. He awakes with Merlin over him demanding to know who she is. Kay bursts in to let them know the rival warlords are arriving.

Arthur prepares to greet them and Merlin's only advice is that destiny must be won—events are not fated. If Arthur should die, then the visions will change. Lot and Morgan meet him in the hall. Morgan tells her brother to leave now and salvage his life, or he'll lose everything.

Arthur speaks, demanding respect as the true and legitimate heir. Lot announces that the man he killed was his son—Lot's men were watching from the forest. He attacked him, Arthur replies. Lot then produces Arthur's foster mother, and proceeds to kill her in front of everyone. Arthur and Kay go to her, while Lot tells them they have five days to grieve and then be gone, or he'll slaughter them all. Lot walks out, despite Arthur's protests to stop him. 

The Verdict:
Something tells me King Lot won't be around too long given he's not in the main cast sheets, and Morgan isn't the type to be second stringer to anyone. I'm enjoying her schemes to claim what she believes is her birthright, and the start of her relationship with her half-brother. But she's no slouch, either, and won't act recklessly or in haste.

I'm not sure how I feel about Joseph Fiennes yet, as I'm still ridding myself of the bitter taste of his acting on FlashForward. So far he's pulling off a suitably mysterious Merlin. More important, I'm really pleased with the delicate use of magic so far. When it appears, it's evident it exacts a toll on the body. Merlin appears to have stopped using it so much (except for some occasional mind reading), compared with Morgan's growing addiction to dark forces.

I wasn't too impressed with the Arthur actor in the trailers, but now seeing him in action, he really pulls it off. Those surrounding him offer a lot of potential as well, including his foster brother and Leontes. Kay notes how easy Arthur has had it all his life. Will that eventually turn into resentment down the road? Also important is the presence of Arthur's real mother, Igraine, as a figure in his life.

Camelot has shown it can rise to the challenge of delivering sex and blood. If the series manages to capture the rich characterization that defines Spartacus, it will continue to impress. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...