The legend of King Arthur has been told countless times and through numerous interpretations. Some of the most well-known versions include the 1960 Broadway musical, John Boorman’s dark fantasy “Excalibur,” and Antoine Fuqua’s “King Arthur” which purported to be a historically accurate adaptation. Of course, my favorite has always been “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Starz has advertised their new series, “Camelot,” as the story “that has never been told.” Debuting in February, “Camelot” was co-created by Michael Hirst, who wrote “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” and Chris Chibnall, the former showrunner on “Torchwood.” Despite airing on the same network as “Spartacus,” “Camelot” doesn’t share its Roman compatriot’s over-the-top tone or CGI backgrounds. It isn’t quite the realistic take as “King Arthur,” but it is a grittier, down-to-earth take.
Morgan le Fay (Eva Green), the banished daughter of King Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Koch), has returned to her ancestral home against the wishes of her father. She poisons dear old daddy to steal the throne and exile her stepmother Igraine (Claire Forlani). Meanwhile, an unassuming farmboy named Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) receives shocking news from the king’s confidante Merlin (Joseph Fiennes). Arthur is actually the illegitimate son of Uther and Igraine who was given up at birth per Merlin’s insistence. The young lad suddenly finds he has the responsibility of reuniting the kingdom from his new home of Camelot. As the new rule of Britain, Arthur must contend with the manipulations of his half-sister Morgan as well as those of Merlin, the man who is supposed to be looking out for him. Arthur also finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton), who is betrothed to marry Leontes (Philip Winchester), a brave knight who has pledged his life to the king.
“Camelot” takes tried and true elements of the iconic legends and finds new ways to interpret them. The famous story of Arthur pulling the sword from the stone plays a major role in the second episode, but the entire affair is revealed to be an elaborate ruse by Merlin to rally the people to Arthur’s side. This Merlin’s most dangerous abilities involve politics and psychology rather than magic. Not to say he isn’t a master of the dark arts, he just doesn’t use them very often as they come at a great cost. It is a lesson he attempts to part on a dismissive Morgan, who is granted her powers from mysterious and ominous forces.
As Merlin, Joseph Fiennes turns in a very sinister performance, but it is the lovely Eva Green who is the true star of the series. The gothically glamorous Green is perfectly cast as the evil Morgan le Fay.
“Camelot” also has its fair share of sex and violence. It’s not as over-the-top as “Spartacus,” but there is a healthy amount of skin. When we meet Arthur for the first time, he’s frolicking nude in a field with a buxom blonde.
This three disc set contains all ten episodes of the first season. The episodes included are:
“Homecoming” – Morgan le Fay poisons her father, King Uther Pendragon, in order to usurp the throne. Her plans are unraveled when Merlin summons the King’s illegitimate son, Arthur.
“The Sword and the Crown” – Merlin plans to crown Arthur as the true king while Morgan and Lot prepare to storm Camelot and take the throne for themselves.
“Guinevere” – Arthur and Guinevere cannot fight the attraction they have for each other even on the morning of her wedding. Kay and Leontes search for a disillusioned warrior named Gawain.
“Lady of the Lake” – Arthur neglects his duties due to his infatuation with Guinevere while Arthur commissions a blacksmith to forge a sword worthy of the new king.
“Justice” – Arthur and his knights try to bring justice to a fearful populace while Morgan does likewise as a way to win their favor.
“Three Journeys” – Arthur accompanies Guinevere on a journey to visit her ailing father while Kay returns to his family’s home.
“The Long Night” – Morgan invites Arthur and his followers for a feast. The two must join forces when the castle comes under attack by a rival of Uther’s.
“Igraine” – Disguised as Igraine, Morgan sows seeds of dissention within the walls of Camelot.
“The Battle of Bardon Pass” – The uneasy alliance between Arthur and his knights begin to unravel as Morgan’s legions prepare to steal the throne.
“Reckoning” – Arthur stands alone against the armies of his half-sister while Morgan herself rides to Camelot to crown herself queen.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The transfer is incredibly rich and detailed capturing the lush backgrounds and locations. Picture quality is impeccable without a single blemish.
The audio is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. The sound is bold with dialogue and score coming in crisp and clear.
Each disc features the Camelot Chronicles: Pop-Up History, which gives detailed notes on the various characters, history, and mythology.
Disc 3 contains the rest of the bonus material.
Starz Studios: Camelot (14:32) is a promotion piece about the creation and making of the series.
Camelot Character Profiles are short two-minute pieces about the lead characters: Arthur, Guinevere, Igraine, Kay, Merlin, and Morgan.
The Knights (2:12) is a quick featurette about Arthur’s loyal protectors.
The Women of Camelot (2:47) focuses on the characters of Guinevere, Morgan, and her servant Vivian.
Candid Camelot (1:18) is a brief reel of the actors goofing off while on set.
Scene Breakdowns are behind-the-scenes featurettes focusing on three major sequences that were filmed during the first season.
On the Set: Mooney’s Movie (2:53) is a video diary shot by Peter Mooney as he and Jamie Campbell Bower prepare for the day’s shoot.
Finally, you get a blooper reel and previews for other Starz/Anchor Bay releases.
I haven’t seen the BBC’s “Merlin” so I can’t compare that to “Camelot.” I will say the Starz series isn’t as compelling and atmospheric as HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Still, “Camelot” is a fine drama that starts off strong, sags in the middle, and ends with a finish that leaves you dying for season 2.