Episode: Camelot 1.01 – “Homecoming” and 1.02 – “The Sword and the Crown”
Original Air Date: April 1, 2011
The King is dead, long live the King! Starz rolls out their newest show, Camelot, with a double episode opener, introducing to us an updated Arthurian Legend set in a world that feels like it could have existed in the time after the Romans. Spoilers may be contained within this review.
There are a few stories and themes that get reused and reused for movies and television. The Arthurian Legend is, well, a legend in the reuse/remake/recycle section of entertainment. And rightly so, as it has many things to say that many people want and need to hear from time to time (and it’s also a right good yarn). For this version, we get a tale that feels very real, like it could have actually taken place in that time period right after the Romans’ hold on the world had fallen (much like 2004’s King Arthur). Instead of pristine castles and knights in full plate armor, everything is more earthy and dirty. Christianity also has a part in this version — it is mentioned at the beginning that Uther sent Morgana away to a convent before disowning her. However, there is still magic. For the most part it’s not flashy or over the top, and even it seems more grounded in reality despite it being not of this world. The acting is also very grounded and, again for the most part, isn’t too much and seems natural for who these people are supposed to be.
This opener did not hold my attention, which is a feat in and of itself since I will literally watch anything that has to do with the Arthurian Legend (yes, I’m including Excaliber). That’s not to say that there weren’t things that I liked because there were many. The handling of Arthur himself reminds me a lot of how Arthur is in Merlin — both are young, brash, used to having things and girls given to them easily, and have moments of uncertainty right before rising to the occasion and showing us a glimpse of the king he will become. The difference that I liked here was that this Arthur was not being raised by Uther and Igraine, he is being raised by what seems to be a peasant couple alongside their own son, Kay. I also had my little nerd moments when Merlin (played brilliantly by Joseph Fiennes) was on screen doing his thing and when we got to see the Sword in the Stone (BIG nerd moment when that scene went down). I also really liked that Camelot turned out to be a Roman ruin. I think that’s a great turn of the legend, and it gives the characters something to build on and work towards. It’s things like that, the touchstones of the legend, that most people cling to and want to see. These were the times I was fully paying attention and not nodding off.
While there were many power plays already happening, they didn’t interest me that much by the time the two hours were over. Having James Purefoy here and gone in the opener was a big time bummer for me. The man knows how to play villainy and it’s a shame to have him gone before this show has really gotten rolling. The nudity and sex was also pretty blah. I mean, at this point in our cable channel viewing history, this is not a big deal and I don’t get why they try to make it a big deal that all these shows coming out have “loads of sex.” Great. So Arthur first meets Guinevere by having a sex dream about her on a beach. I seriously couldn’t think that was any less sexy than I thought it was. All I could think about was, they are so going to have sand in places sand should not ever, ever be (I did enjoy Merlin’s interruption of the dream). I could be jaded by other shows that have used sex scenes as, to use gaming lingo, load screens while we wait for the actual story to pick back up. I’m not trying to be a prude because I dig sex scenes when they’re hot and don’t feel thrown in because this is cable and they can do that, and when they show the dude parts as much as the chick parts get shown (hello, you had James Purefoy on the show! The dude is not shy about being full-on frontal). Speaking of sex, I was disappointed, but only for a moment, that they had Purefoy’s character threaten to rape Morgana. Because using rape in a show on Starz hasn’t gotten super old for me or anything. So, when she turned it around on him and ended up shaming him in front of his men, the scene turned awesome for me. Eva Green is definitely spot on for the cunning, calculating coldness that Morgana needs.
When it comes down to it, if you already like this kind of story like I do, the show is worth watching to the end just to see the Roundtable, the knights, possibly Avalon, and the other touchstones that make us Arthurian Legend fans geek out. While there seemed to be a lot introduced in this opener, I have to think that my waning interest in it by the end was due to the fact that this was two episodes played as one and much of what was being introduced wasn’t that interesting as the minutes went on for me. Shown as individual, one-hour episodes should make the pacing of events more entertaining and tense (sometimes, a good cliffhanger is something a show needs in an episode). Morgana and Merlin having a magical showdown will be worth sticking around for if nothing else.
Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars