It's a Kind of Magic

Meeeerrlin… he drives the fastest milkcart in the west.

Nimueh, Nimueh, Nimueh, Nimueh, In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.

Apart from trying to crowbar the character’s names in popular songs, there’s also a lot of genuine enjoyment to be gleaned from BBC1’s latest stab at filling the “Doctor Who Slot”. Merlin has a kind of 21st century sheen to it that is remarkably similar to the revitalised Robin Hood, which, if you’re a fan of gritty realism, is really going to turn you off from the start. The slick veneer of beautiful people (more about them later), polished floors and gleaming sets throws the idea that this is in any way a medieval drama in to a cocked hat. However, if you can overcome this and accept that much, if not all, dramatic reconstruction reflects more about the real world in which it was produced rather than the fictional world that it portrays, then we can find some real potential here in Camelot.

I’m no big connoisseur of Arthurian legend but I imagine these tales of derring-do between a Merlin and an Arthur who are barely out of their teens flies in the face of the established canon. Having said that, I watched the film Excalibur at the behest of The Other Viewer a week or so ago on the understanding that it would be “the real story and that other kid’s show was just a bit of fluff”. Other than the occasional “Ooh, doesn’t Helen Mirren look young” comment, there was little to commend it and I have never seen a tale so in need of “re-imagining”.  Hats off then to Auntie for being brave enough to try something different with it. Anyway, almost by definition, legends need to be retold, so retelling this again could be argued to be in keeping with tradition.

As is the way these days, casting seems to have been based on young actors who would look good on a poster or your PC’s wallpaper (with Arthur, Merlin, Gwen and the sensational Katie McGrath as Morgana all ticking the boxes) with a couple of more established names (Anthony Head and Richard Willson) to give the whole thing a certain credence. The foruma works well. There is good interaction amongst the characters, although the conceit of having twenty-first century parlance does begin to grate on occasion.

The storylines have been a little cautious for the first few episodes, which is all you would expect in the early days but a few intriguing hints have been dropped along the way and there is, literally, a whole world of potential out there for new tales. Thus the future looks very solid from an artistic perspective so long as the viewing figures remain strong. Adding to the growing mythos, this evening’s episode sees the introducton of Lancelot, so I’m off to watch that and try to work out how to squeeze “Uther Pendragon” into a sing lyric.

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