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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Camelot: A Charmless Making

There is something wrong about Camelot, the new TV telling of the Arthurian Legend. 

It could be the stilted acting, it might be the anachronistic language of the script, perhaps it is the fact that Eva Green always makes me feel a little ill (I swear that woman has a touch of the fey about her), or horror or horrors could it be that the whole Arthurian Legend is now a bit tired? After all, we've been enjoying the BBC's Merlin (a kind of Arthurian Grange Hill) which is fun in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way, and Spam-a-lot is still playing in the West End, so perhaps we've just had enough of Camelot (after all, it is a silly place).

Or maybe there are bigger and better stories to be told these days. The Guardian suggested that Camelot is a sort of S Club Game of Thrones Juniors, and I agree that Game of Thrones is certainly in a different league, but surely Arthur comes before Stark? After all Malory predates Martin by 800 years or so. Yes, the tropes are a bit tired now, but they are Malory's tropes to begin with, and they speak to something true.

So what is wrong with Camelot?

For me this production never had a chance, because no matter what they do they could never be anything but a pale imitation of the Arthurian film to rule them all (no, not the bloody Hobbit films - they owe Malory too). The film I'm talking about is John Boorman's Excalibur, by my reckoning the greatest fantasy film ever made.

Excalibur realises that it is not telling a history, but a legend that is an echo of history, something that is a distillation of our collective memory. Its Anglo-Saxon knights thunder to war in Gothic armour, and celebrate their victories in Norman halls. But it is easy to forgive. It's a story filled with archetypes, the women are mother's, lovers, witches and wives; it's men mythic. And Excalbur? Well she is an emerald blade of perfection and the screen literally hums in her presence.

Fiennes may well grow into his role as Merlin, but Nichole Williams (complete with mirrored steel skullcap) is Merlin and gives a suitable inhuman performance. Jamie Campbell Bower may grow a beard, but he could never show as well as Nigel Terry how a simple man can make a great king. And Eva Green may be lovely (in a squeasy, bad-for-you sort of way), but she lacks the fierce arrogance of Helen Mirren's Morgana. 

So as I watched them ride about, roll around and generally make a lot of noise, I couldn't help hoping that the dragon's breath might rise and transform them into Excalibur instead.

You can steal the charm of making, but be careful that the magic doesn't run out.

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