Really, this one should be called “About The Night Before Last”, because that’s when Camelot premiered on Starz. If we want to get even more technical about it, the first half of the two-hour premiere episode was actually shown on February 25 as a sneak peek. But, enough with all of the minor details let’s get into the actual show.
I am a huge fan of the sword and shield genre, so I was definitely excited to check this one out. Camelot is about, of course, the classic story of King Arthur and his kingdom of the same name. Most of the major players of the story are here; Merlin, Arthur, Uther, Morgan, etc. The difference is that this is a far less romanticized Arthurian vision. Camelot isn’t some shining bastion of hope, so much as it is an abandoned Roman relic in dire need of some remodeling. Arthur is a scared and naive boy. And, like many premium cable shows, there is a great deal of sex and violence.
The story kicks off with the death of Uther Pendragon and tracks Arthur from his humble peasant beginnings to him becoming the great king that we all know him as. Now, this story has been told and reimagined countless times, but I think what could really separate this series from its predecessors is how the character of Merlin is portrayed. In Camelot, Merlin is a political powerhouse. He has calculated every move he and Arthur need to make in order to make the young king’s ascension to power a reality. Joseph Fiennes, the actor who plays Merlin, described the character, “ as sort of a cross between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Donald Rumsfeld.” In the premiere we see just how true this is. Merlin knows how to manipulate the masses and those around him with relative ease. And you get the distinct impression that every piece he moves in this game has been thought out and planned for years; right down to Arthur pulling the sword from the stone in front of the people of his realm. All of this is honestly a very interesting look at the politics involved with such a rise to power and how proper positioning and the image you project can change the tides faster than any battle.
While I enjoyed these aspects of the show I did feel like the story was very rushed. You never got to spend enough time with the characters and, as a result, the emotional beats don't count as much as they should. The episode also moved at a pretty fast clip, which is nice at times, but for the most part I wished it would have slowed down enough to let me really build some kind of connection the people and world I was watching. The constant sweeping camera moves also gave the pilot too much of a summer action movie feel for my taste. That being said, I’ll still give this series a chance and tune in for the next episode. Eva Green, who plays Arthur’s half-sister Morgan, and Jospeh Fiennes are real standouts and their acting draws you in quite nicely. In fact, Eva Green’s involvement was what really got me interested in the show more than anything. I also think that the idea of Merlin creating the legend of Arthur, rather than him “rising to the throne” on his own accord, has a ton of potential for future conflict and compelling storylines. Camelot has been described as an adult version of the ancient story with numerous political and romantic undercurrents. I think at the very least, it’ll be something to hold you over until Game of Thrones.