‘Camelot’ Series Premiere Review and Discussion

Published 4 years ago by , Updated February 15th, 2014 at 4:30 pm,

starz camelot premiere bower green ‘Camelot’ Series Premiere Review and Discussion

Tonight Starz airs the premiere of its newest drama, Camelot. Billed as an adult re-telling of the legendary exploits of King Arthur, the new series breaks the medieval mold in many ways – but is it compelling enough to warrant a viewing?

The episode opens up as classical antagonist Morgan (Eva Green, Casino Royale) attempts to re-enter the hall of King Uther. Her father disowns her for disgracing his new queen, Igraine (Claire Forlani). Morgan disguises herself to enter a feast in the hall and poisons Uther, immediately calling his rival King Lot for an alliance to quickly usurp the throne.

Meanwhile, Merlin (Joseph Fiennes, FlashForward, Shakespeare In Love) rushes to the countryside. He finds a peasant’s son, Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows),  and assures him that he is the legitimate heir of Uther Pendragon and Igraine. Merlin, Arthur and Arthur’s brother, Kay, rush to the ruins of ancient Camelot, to meet with knights loyal to Uther and create a new seat of power for the land.

Camelot is Starz’ second period piece after Spartacus: Blood and Sand. The series is written by Michael Hirst and Thomas Malory (among others) who are familiar with genre stories like The Tudors, Elizabeth and Excalibur. The roots of Arthurian epics such as Le Mort d’Arthur are apparent, with more recent versions from T. H. White being largely ignored. That said, there’s plenty of modernity in the retelling – this isn’t your ancestors’ Camelot – and you can expect some major divergences from legend throughout the season.

Production values are high, with excellent sets, costumes and cinematography. The cinema-grade veneer only loses its shine on sweeping landscape shots where the CG castles and backgrounds become readily apparent. On a TV budget, even a sizeable one, the visuals and atmosphere are commendable.

In much the same fashion as Spartacus, the pilot is fearless in its graphic violence and sexuality. To quote Fiennes in an early interview, Camelot isn’t a musical. Those hoping for gallantry and chivalry might be turned off, but the adults-only nature of the series is refreshing next to more tame fare like Merlin on Syfy.

Fiennes green camelot premiere ‘Camelot’ Series Premiere Review and Discussion

Eva Green and Joseph Fiennes deliver standout performances in the pilot.

Speaking of Fiennes and Merlin, the actor’s non-traditional portrayal of the wizard is definitely a high point. Gone is the aged sorcerer with the Santa-shaming beard: Camelot‘s Merlin is a younger, more vibrant player whose knowledge and cunning are his best weapons. Fiennes plays the character like a cross between a mentor and a politician, deftly maneuvering Arthur, Morgan and Igraine like pieces on a national chessboard. The character is fascinating, and manages to always keep you guessing.

Equally impressive is Green’s Morgan. The cutthroat vixen never cackles or screams like a Disney villainess, instead subtly manipulating the powerful men around her while holding the proverbial dagger. Morgan’s ruthless ambition is on display, as are more subdued hints at her underlying hatred. If the pilot is any indication, her scheming against the equally wily Merlin will drive the plot of the series forward.

The only real downside to the cast seems to be Bower’s portrayal of Arthur. Pale, scrawny and needy, the ‘boy who would be king’ seems to be very much the former. Peter Mooney, who plays Arthur’s adoptive brother Kay, would have been my choice for the role within Camelot‘s cast. I won’t write of the character yet, though – the story is about Arthur becoming king, and humble beginnings may allow Bower to earn some impressive moments in later episodes.

arthur starz camelot ‘Camelot’ Series Premiere Review and Discussion

Bower as Arthur

Arthur is the proverbial fish out of water, fluctuating between moments of overwhelming fear and gallant bravery. His on-the-spot rebuff of King Lot illustrates this perfectly: he’s strong-willed enough to fight when challenged, but naïve enough not to understand the consequences of his actions. Undoubtedly Arthur will be the character with the most development, and it’ll be interesting to see how he transitions from a green claimant to a worthy successor.

The overall writing and delivery is solid without being extraordinary. The sometimes tiring dialogue of Spartacus has been replaced with more natural lines, though given the medieval setting, they’re still delivered with an old-fashioned pace. Expect these to improve even more as the cast and crew find their rhythm.

One element I found fascinating was the use of magic, or rather, the lack thereof. In Camelot, magic is a hard and taxing process: using it causes an instant and powerful drain on all affected parties. So while a little sorcery may be seen here and there, don’t expect it to drive the story. It’s a gutsy move for the writers, who’ve closed off an avenue to some easy plot resolutions, and I’m very happy to see it handled in such a fashion.

Dramatic arcs are set in motion quickly in the pilot. The essential conflict between Morgan, Arthur and Merlin is compelling enough, but there’s also the more nuanced family turmoil of Arthur, who’s still in shock after learning the truth of his royal parentage. We also see an extremely brief (and revealing) glimpse of Tamsin Egerton as Guinevere. Without spoiling anything, the conclusion of the first episode will leave viewers hungry for more development and resolution.

bower arthur camelot premiere ‘Camelot’ Series Premiere Review and Discussion

The interpretation of such well-known characters is a refreshing one. The protagonists are far from perfect, while the antagonists motivated by understandable grievances. In short, these characters are much more believable than their romantic counterparts, while remaining more interesting than other modern re-imaginings, such as the 2004 film version of King Arthur. There’s bound to be some rather fundamental shifts to the story (there almost has to be, with source material this well-trodden) and I’m curious to see what they’ll be.

Camelot will please both fans of classic Arthurian tales and Starz’ previous dramatic outings. Those hoping for an epic but tame tale need not apply: put the kids to bed before viewing. The premiere is solid, and I’ll be curious to see what alterations are made to the beloved stories of Arthur, Merlin, Morgan and Guinevere.

In an interesting convergence, Camelot may be facing its own usurper on the horizon. HBO’s forthcoming medieval epic, Game of Thrones, is slated to premiere in just over two weeks.

Camelot premieres Friday night at 10PM on Starz.

TAGS: Camelot
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  1. ew, there are ads on your STILL IMAGES!!!

  2. This, to me, seems like softporn 90210 meets Arthurian Legend. It just doesn’t sit right. Then again, I’ve delved quite a bit into the scholarly realm about the Arthurian Legends so I find it’s difficult for me to accept every single re-imagining of the tale — even if that may be the absolute core and purpose of the legend.

    I think it’s Starz, to be honest. It’s just tasteless flesh. Which I don’t even mind, but to me, it’s just a grab at a fantasy niche. I’ll hold my real opinion until I see a few episodes.

  3. spartacus could kill them ALL

  4. Fiennes is fantanstic as Merlin!

  5. I couldn’t agree more w/ this review. Arthur is horribly mis-cast. Merlin and Morgan were the best parts of this pilot

  6. I guess I’m the only one who likes Bower as Arthur. For me, I see this version of Arthur as a boy who will grow into man type plot. So why not have a more boyish version of Arthur and just expand on it. I loved this show and can’t wait until more come on! Fridays are booked!

  7. Its a decent show, if it gets a little more interesting I’ll continue to watch, but if the premiere was the best the show has to offer I’ll probably stop after 5 episodes or so.

  8. The guy playing Author is horrible. The good thing about this is it allows him to grow into a strong warrior/king. Hopefully.

    • If Arthur’s going to grow into a strong warrior he better get out the weight lifting equipment real soon.

  9. Doesn’t feel right. It lakes the the cadence and excitement of Spartacus. Can’t compare

  10. Maybe Starz is selling porn ? This series seems to loose validity as the storyline seems to focus on full nudity, the sexlife,and sexual situations of its characters.

  11. Even though is cast if good, something about the story doesn’t flow very well. First Arthur’s Mother is executed in front of him and the next scene he seems to have forgotten all about it and in a later episode his father is murdered and again by the next scene he couldn’t really care. relationships between characters and events don’t add up.
    And it doesn’t help that I’ve also been watching Game of thrones which is far superior.

    • I Love “Camelot” Mostly Leontes {Philip Winchester}. I cried when he was killed!

  12. I had high hopes for this show, sadly I was disappointed. Felt like I was watching a medieval soap opera with nudity. I don’t mind the writers wanting to show character flaws in a legendary figure but honestly to make the main character come off as a whiny, insolent, selfish, ingrate with little to no redeeming qualities, is a big turn off. I also didn’t like how sparse the production was. Am I the only one who finds it hard to believe King Author rules England with an army of no more than 20 warriors, women, children, some goats and chickens? I felt like I was watching a play. Fighting scenes were pathetic and pointless. What was the point of Author and the majority of his less than 10 army to defend an already collapsed farm? Seriously, a collapsed farm no bigger than my backyard? So what the show is trying to convince viewers is, England consists of 2 shabby castles and a collapsed farm and an outpost in the middle of the woods. And Author is the king of all that. If the story line and plot were a bit better I could forgive it.

  13. I don’t understand how Guinevere could fall for Arthur over Leontes…Leontes is HOTTT & the guy who plays Arthur is scrawny, pale with crooked teeth and looks like a rabbit.

    • Totally agree – Leontes was soooo much sexier than Arthur, who looks about 12 years old. Also is a horrible actor, IMO.

  14. Also, I thought the hair and make-up on Guinevere made her look way too modern. You could see the dark roots and ashy toning on her blonde hair, her eyebrows were all perfectly groomed, etc. Same with Igraine’s collagen injections and eyebrows. They both look straigh out of Orange County – it’s annoying and distracting. I understand that our modern beauty standards are different, but I think The Tudors did a much better job of making the period characters attractive by our standards without making it obvious that they have 21st century grooming processes.

  15. I enjoyed watching camelot, it was a great first season and now you decide not to make a second season. Well lets just say that thats ridiculous. You will lose alot of subscriptions and views by doing this. I am very disappointed by this!!! This is your lose Starz!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :( :(

  16. This was a bad mistake by stars a lot of poeple loved that show as much as Spartacus and I am one of them. Spartacus has no story line just blood!!!
    Camelot is a great story and should be showed on this level bring it back please!!!!!

  17. I think its great rewrite of the story. If you dont like flesh dont watch it punkasses. I like how everything is tied together and how the characters are portrayed. Its supposed to be different. It makes me sad they’re not doing a second season. I like how evil they made Morgan(Morgana her name in the original I believe) More formidable then we could have imagine. The love stories, the character of Merlin more of man instead of portraying him as I’m just a sorcerer. Of course Arthur not what you want now, he just found out he’s a king. He growing into it.

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