Thursday, 14 February 2013

Camelot (Season One)

This post is going to be a review of Camelot. No, I won't be talking about the Broadway musical or its film adaptation. I'll be talking about a 10 episode TV series that was based on Arthurian legend and produced by the American channel Starz in 2011. If you take a look at the DVD cover on the left you'll notice that it says "The Complete First Season" and that might leave you with the impression that there are more seasons of Camelot. No, the DVD cover is actually quite misleading. Camelot only has one season because it got cancelled. Some shows, like Firefly and Pushing Daisies, get cancelled unfairly but not Camelot. It was rubbish! But before I start my rant please don't accuse me of being biased. If you've read my blog before then you might realise that I'm a massive fan of the TV show Merlin. I think it's vastly superior to Camelot. However, I'd hate for anyone to accuse me of disliking Camelot just because I'm narrow-minded and can't appreciate more than one Arthurian show. No, I dislike Camelot simply because it's a crappy show. In fact I saw a couple of Camelot episodes (and disliked them) back when I still thought Merlin was a bad show!

Camelot begins with the princess Morgan (Eva Green) arriving at Castle Pendragon. Morgan is seriously hacked off with her father King Uther because he murdered her mother, swiftly remarried another woman, and banished Morgan to a convent for 10 years. Yet Morgan is still willing to forgive her father if he only says "Sorry" and returns her to the line of succession. That's really quite generous of her I must say! However, Uther fails to take advantage of Morgan's generous offer and gives her a punch in the face for her trouble - so Morgan kills Uther, banishes her stepmother Igraine (Claire Forlani), and allies herself with her dad's sworn enemy King Lot (James Purefoy). But Uther's mate Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) is having none of this so he goes off to find Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower). Arthur is Uther and Igraine's secret, illegitimate son. He's been raised out in the countryside by his adoptive family and has no idea of his true origins. Merlin has Arthur pull the sword from the stone and then has him crowned King at Camelot. Morgan is furious that some bastard half-brother of hers that no-one even bothered to tell her about has claimed her birthright and snatched the crown, but she pretends to come around to the idea so she can undermine Arthur's reign in secret. There's also a subplot about Arthur falling in love with Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton).

To be fair, the idea behind Camelot isn't a bad one at all and as its tone is completely different to Merlin's it can't really be accused of being a rip-off of that show. Although Merlin did get progressively darker with each series it was fundamentally a family-friendly show in the style of Doctor Who. However Camelot is far grittier and darker and is much more adult. The set-up of Camelot is a bit more faithful to the traditional Arthurian legends than Merlin's too. Camelot does have some other things going for it as well. The show was filmed in Ireland and there are some gorgeous location shots of the Irish countryside and some really nice cinematography. It has some pretty good sets and I really liked that their Camelot was a ruined castle by the sea. It made for a nice contrast to the fairytale-like castle of Merlin's Chateau du Pierrefonds. I really liked the title credits for Camelot and the theme music. I really liked some of the costumes in the show; with Morgan, Igraine and Guinevere all getting some very pretty dresses.

Unfortunately, there are far more bad things about Camelot than there are good. For one thing the show is just so gratuitous. It's full of full-frontal nudity and explicit sex scenes that are completely pointless, and are clearly just there for the sake of it and to provide some cheap titillation. As an example, there's a scene in one episode where Morgan goes off wandering in the woods in a very see-through nightie and then flashes her breasts at a wolf for NO REASON AT ALL!

The acting in the show is a mixed bag. Peter Mooney (who plays Arthur's brother Kay) gives a strong performance on the show. He has charisma, an engaging screen presence, and he makes Kay very likeable. The same goes for the actor Philip Winchester who plays the character of Leontes. James Purefoy gives an extremely entertaining performance as King Lot in this show too. In fact I was so entertained by his bellowing, roaring and general scenery chewing that I was actually really disappointed that they killed his character off so early into the season! He was so much fun!

Finally, Eva Green does a terrific job as Morgan. The Morgan of Camelot and the Morgana of Merlin have quite a bit in common actually. They both have major father issues. They both have magic. They both wear fabulous costumes and flawless eye make-up. They're both played by beautiful dark-haired actresses. But who's the better villain? Well... as much as I love Katie McGrath I'm going to have to go with Morgan. She's still evil but is much more three-dimensionally so than Morgana ever was and Green gives a great performance. I was impressed that she was able to conceal her French accent so well and her character even comes across as quite likeable at times... too likeable in fact! It really can't be a good thing when you find yourself rooting for Arthur's evil half-sister to take the throne! However Arthur is just so annoying, incompetent and inept that Morgan really makes you convinced that her becoming Queen is in everyone's best interests! She's intelligent! She's got political knowledge! She's got great PR skills! She has ambition! She actually gets things done! Morgan would be a much more kick-ass monarch than Arthur!

The very worst thing about Camelot is probably Arthur himself who is both badly-acted and badly-written. This is, you know, kind of a major problem for a show that's based on Arthurian mythology! Even if Camelot had been a masterclass in every other department the portrayal of Arthur would have still ruined the show. Jamie Campbell Bower is terrribly miscast as Arthur! What were they thinking?! Jamie Campbell Bower is just so skinny and effeminate-looking that no matter how hard they try to make him look badass he just ends up looking ridiculous! It really doesn't help matters that they have him wear his hair in a little ponytail at times! Also, he looks and talks like someone who's just wandered off the set of Made in Chelsea! With his incredibly posh accent Arthur certainly doesn't talk like someone who's been brought up on a farm all his life! Campbell Bower's acting itself is really bad too. I thought Campbell Bower was a bit wooden in Sweeney Todd but he's terrible in this and Eva Green acts him off the screen. Campbell Bower has no charisma, no screen presence, no authoritative air. His Arthur never shows any leadership skills and he never comes across as noble or kingly or even likeable. It's really made me appreciate the acting talent and hotness of Merlin's Bradley James even more!

It's not entirely Campbell Bower's fault though because the writing really doesn't help matters or give him much to work with. There's the way Arthur is introduced in the show for example. He's always been portrayed as a noble leader of men so how do the writers try to get the audience to like Arthur and root for him? Well they have him... shagging his brother's girlfriend under a tree. No, I'm not joking! He doesn't even feel guilty and remorseful about it afterwards either! He immediately comes across as a selfish, womanising dick! In fact Arthur only decides to become king so he can pull even more women! Even early on in the first series of Merlin, when Arthur was being arrogant and rude, he was still far more likeable than this twerp! We never see Camelot's Arthur become more mature and likeable over the course of the season either. I really wasn't buying his supposed love for Guinevere for either. So he has a few pleasantly erotic dreams about her and speaks to her twice and now he's in love? *sigh* I haven't even come to the Arthur-Guinevere romance in this show yet...

Right, you know everyone knows that Guinevere cheated on Arthur with Lancelot in the legends? Well, in this show it's reversed, er, sort of. In this show Guinevere is engaged to a knight called Leontes and she cheats on him with Arthur! On the day of her wedding! Why?! Why would they DO that?! The only explanation that I can think of is that they wanted to make Arthur look like less of a cuckolded victim but it was so, so, so stupid! It makes Guinevere look like a slut, Arthur look like even more of an asshole, and it makes you care about their characters even less. Why would Guinevere cheat on Leontes anyway?! She's been engaged to him for three years and he was her childhood sweetheart for eight years before that. He's clearly a really nice person and he obviously adores her. Also he is sooo much hotter and manlier than Arthur! Are we really supposed to believe that Guinevere - simply out of pre-wedding jitters - is now willing to lose her virginity and cheat on her really attractive fiancĂ© with a skinny dude who she's only met twice and flirted with a bit on a balcony?! Yes, Arthur's the king but still! And if you're going to reverse the love triangle then at least do it properly! Is Leontes supposed to be Lancelot? Because if he is then call him Lancelot! Don't try to be clever by giving him a Roman name! Anyway, in the legends the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle is a tragic love affair that destroyed a friendship and marriage and contributed to the downfall of an entire kingdom. Here it's so soap opera-esque that I often felt like I was watching an episode of Hollyoaks!

There are other actors in Camelot that struggle to give good performances as well. Tamsin Egerton is very poor. Yes she's beautiful but she's also painfully wooden and awkward and she really struggles - especially in the more dramatic scenes she has to do. Claire Forlani is very bland as Igraine but she does do a decent job in that one episode where she gets to play Morgan. Even Joseph Fiennes isn't very good in this show. I think he was trying to portray Merlin as being a mysterious, machiavellian sort of character but he's much too intense and far too over-the-top. And why did he feel the need to speak about 90% of his lines in hoarse whispers?! Does Merlin have a permanently sore throat?!

There are even more things I haven't mentioned that contribute to Camelot being an extremely rubbish show indeed. One of the most frustrating things about the show is that the characters do some absolutely moronic things from time to time. For example: why does Arthur needlessly risk his life to pull the sword from the stone? Instead of rockclimbing to the top of the waterfall why doesn't he just go off and find a nice, gentle walk up to the top and swim across? And why does he still pull the sword out when he must realise that it's all that's keeping him from plummeting? And then there's Merlin and Igraine trying to arrest Morgan at Castle Pendragon when Merlin realises that he slept with Morgan after she kidnapped Igraine and supernaturally shapeshifted into her body. Merlin and Igraine then storm off to confront Morgan and don't even take any knights with them as backup! And once there Merlin completely ignores the blatantly obvious fact that the local people all love Morgan by attempting to perform a citizen's arrest on her! Combine this with the fact that Merlin is a known warlock with a dangerous reputation, and the fact that Igraine is babbling away like a mad woman, then it's no wonder that no-one believes him! He and Igraine get promptly put in chains and are sent straight back to Camelot - and they completely deserved it for their own moronity! Didn't Merlin think it was best to obtain some kind of evidence before he accused everyone's favourite princess of kidnap and sorcery?! And why did Merlin feel it was so important to arrest Morgan anyway? There's a battle going on and the possibility that the king could get killed by one of his own knights. If he thinks that Leontes is having regicidal thoughts then why doesn't he think that his presence might come in handy at the battle? Not only that, Guinevere makes an absolutely moronic decision in the very same episode as well. She makes an absolute nuisance of herself by riding into battle and having to get rescued! Arthur and Leontes end up risking their own lives to save her! Why couldn't the writers have just kept Guinevere in Camelot? She served no purpose at all by being at the battle. Sure her arrival acted as final confirmation to the knights that she'd slept with Arthur but Kay was already on the verge of working that out because of Leontes being all moody and silent. And Gawain must have suspected that something was going on already because of Merlin telling him to protect Arthur from Leontes.

Anyone who's hoping for some exciting scenes involving magic in the show is going to be disappointed too because there's barely any magic in Camelot at all. This is down to Merlin being a complete wimp! He's too scared to use his magic because he fears giving in to his dark side, and as a result he's always getting his ass handed to him by Morgan and/or her men. The only magic that Merlin does use in this show is to make a fire bigger and to freeze a lake. And why should I be impressed by this when this is just something that a gust of wind and winter could do? Even Morgan doesn't use all that magic in this show actually. She'd rather use her political knowledge to undermine Arthur and the only magic that she really makes use of is shapeshifting. And why should I be impressed by that when this is something that the British public has seen Nick Clegg do? Now in Merlin they used proper magic! They used hand gestures, words in old English, glowing golden eyes! Oh sure, Merlin and Morgana mostly relied on knocking people over with their magic but at least they put more effort in! My final problem with Camelot is that it takes itself so damn seriously! There's barely any humour in it! The only humour in Camelot was provided by King Lot but as I've mentioned they killed him off far too early.

Camelot was deservedly cancelled and I don't think there'll ever be people signing mass petitions and clamouring for it to return. I certainly won't miss it, although I must confess that a teeny tiny small part of me will always wonder how Morgan would have used Mordred to manipulate Arthur in the second season that never was. It's obvious by the end of this season that Morgan is now pregnant after having had sex with Arthur in Guinevere's form. Oh well, I can certainly live with that! Merlin really is a vastly superior Arthurian TV show and I'd recommend it to anyone over Camelot. Sure Merlin was more inspired by than directly based on the legends and the show had its faults. But Merlin is by far the better show because - unlike Camelot - it had genuinely loveable characters that you cared about, plenty of heart, plenty of humour, and never took itself too seriously. It could still be very emotional when it needed to be though and its final episode is really quite beautiful. The actors were great in Merlin too and they had genuine chemistry with each other. And it was fun!

Rating: 1/5
Film Certificate Rating: 15

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