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STUDIO:Starz Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 515 minutes (10 episodes)
- Historical pop-ups
- Character Profiles
- Blooper reel
Another lavish historical drama in the tradition of Rome, The Tudors, Spartacus, and Game of Thrones.
Created by Chris Chibnall and Michael Hirst. Acted by Jamie Campbell Bower, Joseph Fiennes, Eva Green, Tamsin Edgerton, and Claire Forlani.
When the king of Britain, Uther Pendragon, is assassinated by his conniving daughter Morgan, Merlin (the king’s magician and chief advisor) recruits Arthur, the king’s illegitimate son and legal heir, to challenge Morgan’s claim to the throne. Arthur was raised on a farm by simple country folk, knowing nothing of his royal parentage. After leaving his adoptive parents and setting up shop in the ancient Roman city of Camelot, Arthur begins trying to unite all of Britain under his father’s banner, but faces challenges on all sides: his knights are poorly trained, Morgan (a powerful sorceress) is constantly plotting to overthrow him, and his love for the beautiful Guinevere puts him at odds with the lady in question’s husband… Arthur’s “champion” and chief knight, Leontes.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a young man raised on a farm in the country meets a wizard, who tells the young man that he’s been watching over him since he was a child, and that now the young man is destined to leave his home and help the wizard overthrow a powerful tyrant. Shortly thereafter, the young man’s adoptive parents are killed and the village where he grew up destroyed, and he finds himself traveling with the wizard and several other companions (including a handsome rogue who doesn’t like taking orders and generally doesn’t play well with others), having a series of adventures before finally winning a decisive battle against the evil tyrant’s forces. Oh, and he also finds time for some hot brother/sister lovin’ along the way!
If you thought I was talking about Star Wars, you’re probably not alone… and if you didn’t, well, it’s probably because I didn’t do a very good job of synthesizing the plots of the two stories. At any rate, if you’re even passingly familiar with A New Hope, Smallville, or any number of other shows/movies, Camelot is most likely going to feel like something you’ve seen before. That’s not a criticism, exactly, as the legend of King Arthur no doubt helped form part of the basis for many of those tales. But that doesn’t stop certain elements of the show’s story from feeling just a little too familiar.
Anyone who’s watched Rome, Game of Thrones, or any of the other shows mentioned in the Pitch section will recognize many of the basic elements here as well. You have the scheming, the alliances, the betrayals, the political back-stabbing (literal back-stabbing, in this case, not the more benevolent kind present in modern-day politics). You have the lavish locations and elaborate set and costume design; these shows must cost a fortune! And at the center of it all, of course, you have what is essentially the wellspring of modern storytelling, the doomed/forbidden romance. Again, stop me if any of this sounds new or unfamiliar.
For what it’s worth, Camelot has at least two things that many of those other shows lack: likable characters and a discernible moral center. One of the defining characteristics of Rome, for instance, was the complete amorality of many of its characters; they were all status-hungry political types constantly scheming for power. Even the more relatable, down-to-Earth characters like Vorenus and Pullo seemed perfectly comfortable maiming, murdering, and sadistically torturing people. Human life is cheap on these shows, and you seldom get a chance to forget it. Camelot, on the other hand, features heroes who stand up for the downtrodden and essentially end up trying to create the world’s first modern justice system. The cast is also small enough for each individual character to stand out; in contrast, I can’t even think of the name of the older Stark brother from Game of Thrones. Not off the top of my head, anyway.
Where the show pales in comparison to its predecessors, unfortunately, is in the story department. If Rome and GoT were books, they’d be the type that’s nearly impossible to put down; Camelot, on the other hand, would be that too-long book that’s been sitting open and face-down on your coffee table for the last month. You keep meaning to get back to it, but somehow you’re just never quite in the mood. As much as I appreciated the show’s strengths, I never really found myself caring what was going to happen next. I never found myself unable to resist turning to the next page, so to speak.
Another big weakness is the Arthur/Guinevere relationship. The show wants us to buy into this pairing as some kind of great, legendary romance, but it just doesn’t play. Arthur and Guin have sex on the beach, after which she immediately rejects him, and suddenly theirs is a passion Arthur is willing to endanger his life, not to mention his kingdom, for? The man willing to risk it all for the sake of an idealized beauty he barely knows has become such a cliche that the writers of True Blood have taken to openly mocking the trope. (Surprising, considering it’s what their whole show is based on). Arthur also comes across as weak, whiny, and borderline stalker-ish in the way he continues to pursue Guinevere, despite her marriage to his friend and frequent pleas for him to leave her the hell alone. Do women really fantasize about this sort of thing? I would think they would have nightmares about it.
Also… not to be indelicate, but had the show continued, and remained even remotely true to traditional Arthurian myth, Guinevere would eventually betray Arthur in favor of Lancelot, just as she here cuckolds poor Leontes in favor of Arthur. The Art/Guinevere pairing is an arranged marriage in both the Camelot musical and the movie First Knight, among other tellings, so in that context it isn’t quite so distasteful: Arthur is the older man Guinevere marries out of obligation, and Lance is her true love. The events of this show cast the situation in an entirely different light: the writers of Camelot have taken one of the most well-known romantic figures in literature, and turned her into a serial adulterer! Bad form, guys; bad form.
The featurettes and so on are pretty standard. No commentaries. The pop-up historical factoids (also present on the Rome Blu-Ray) are fun, but poorly-timed in places: a fact will show up several minutes after the scene relating to it, for instance. And what is with the sorry state of the blooper reel these days? 90% of them seem staged; actors deliberately mugging for the camera and so on. Gimme some spontaneity and some pratfalls, damn it!
Out of a Possible 5 Stars