This tale of medieval fantasy covers a version of the Arthurian legend and events prior to it, primarily from the perspective of Merlin the wizard. The use of magic is featured heavily, but it is not without its dramatic moments, when characters clash over very human issues. Merlin struggles to advise Kings, Lords and Knights in his efforts to bring the country into an era of peace and harmony. Queen Mab regularly attempts to thwart his plans, aided by her assistant Frik the Gnome.
The story was written by Edward Khmara and the screenplay was written by David Stevens and Peter Barnes. Directed by Steve Barron, this Hallmark Entertainment / NBC TV mini series was originally broadcast in two ninety-minute parts. Most of the production crew had previously worked on The Odyssey and Gulliver's Travels, both of which were also for NBC. Filming began just six months before it was scheduled to be broadcast and took fourteen weeks to shoot. It is effectively the equivalent of two feature length movies. Locations for filming included Wales, four sound stages at Pinewood Studios in London, and a forest nearby.
Director - Steve Barron
They also built an eight storey high castle in the back lot at Pinewood, which took four weeks from start to finish. This construction was supervised by Production Designer Roger Hall.
Building A Castle At Pinewood
|Barron wanted to emulate Steven Spielberg's method of directing, thinking of the production as a race to the finish line. This was in order to achieve an energetic pace throughout the story and to avoid falling behind in the production schedule. The figure varies depending on the source of information, but it does contain at least four hundred and fifty special effect shots, which is a large amount for the time, even when compared to cinematic releases. The Jim Henson Workshop was also employed for this production. They worked on some of the dragon effects seen in the story.|
Barron introduced the use of a snorkel lens. The camera has a special mirror attached to the end of the lens. It enables access into hard-to-reach places that bulkier cameras simply couldn't go.
Using a Snorkel Lens
CastWhen drawing out a wish list of cast members, Barron was delighted to find that just about every first choice accepted their respective roles.The long list of famous names associated with this project makes this especially notable.
Sam Neill and Isabella Rossellini were the first to be cast. They both loved the script and how their characters were written. Neill particularly loved the idea of Merlin falling in love with a woman that would later become scarred, finding that it explored the human side of his character's personality. Both Neill and Rossellini prepared heavily for their roles by studying various interpretations of their characters.
Martin Short was cast as Frik, the magical gnome who assists Queen Mab. His character had to change into six different forms in the story. Short decided to adopt a particular English accent for each form, in order to help emphasise his magical transformation from one entity to the next.
Miranda Richardson was cast as Queen Mab. Richardson decided that it would sound strange if her character spoke in a normal manner, considering the fact that Queen Mab is a very powerful mage. She used a voice that she wanted to have an "underground" quality to it. Whenever she spoke, she didn't move her face, to make it seem as if her voice came from elsewhere. She was also cast as Queen Mab's sister, the Lady of the Lake.
Lord Leo (Nicholas Clay)
Two actors that featured in John Boorman's 1981 movie Excalibur also appeared in this production. Nicholas Clay, who played Lancelot in Excalibur, briefly appears as Lord Leo, father of Guinevere. Robert Addie, who played Mordred in Excalibur, has a brief role as Sir Gilbert. He appears alongside Nickolas Grace (Sir Egbert) in this mini series. Grace and Addie also both starred in the 1980s U.K. TV series Robin of Sherwood, as The Sheriff of Nottingham and Sir Guy of Gisburne respectively.
Sir Gilbert (Robbert Addie) & Sir Egbert (Nickolas Grace)
Paul Curran ( King Arthur) also starred as Kay in an unconnected TV movie, released the same year, about a young Merlin. It starred Jason Connery in the titular role.
Sir John Gielgud (King Constant) also played Merlin in the animated musical feature Quest For Camelot.
A very powerful mage known as Queen Mab fears that the "old ways", that of magic and associated creatures, will be forgotten. If this comes to pass, she and her kind will cease to exist. She decides to do everything in her power to prevent this from happening. She casts a spell on a woman to give birth to a son "with no mortal father". Mab is indifferent when the mother dies after giving birth. All she cares about is her own machinations. She plans to employ this "half-human", once he has grown, to make sure the magical realm is always remembered. This baby is named Merlin and brought up by Ambrosia, a stout, good-hearted woman that takes no nonesense from anyone, least of all Queen Mab. Merlin grows up to be a good natured man, initially unaware of his innate magical abilities. As a young man, he has a chance encounter with Nimue in the forest and they soon fall in love. Eventually, Queen Mab summons him to her lair, but is frustrated by his disinterest in learning the magic arts. Despite this, he gradually becomes very capable at magic, though not as powerful as Queen Mab.
Queen Mab - "Our World Is Dying"
Throughout his adult life, he tries to use his wisdom to guide the country into a peaceful rule, but this is frequently in conflict with Queen Mab’s desire for the magical realm to not be forgotten. Vortigern usurps the insane King Constant and rules for twenty years. When Merlin first meets him, it doesn’t take him long to realize that Vortigern is not a good king. Vortigern holds Nimue prisoner in order to guarantee her father, Lord Ardente’s loyalty on the battlefield. Mab persuades Vortigern to sacrifice Nimue to a dragon. Merlin manages to save her but not before her face is scarred by the Dragon’s breath. Merlin acquires Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake and sides with Uther in order to dethrone Vortigern. They succeed, but Merlin finds he has replaced a tyrant with a lustful, selfish man. Uther is willing to let the country fall apart because of his desire for Lady Igraine. Merlin takes advantage of this desire so that the future King of England, Arthur, can be born. Merlin also tricks Uther into handing over Excalibur so that he can cast it into the stone. Only a good and worthy king will pull it out. Uther eventually goes insane, kills himself, and plunges the country into an era without a king.
The Lady Of The Lake Gives Merlin Excalibur
Even when Merlin eventually manages to put Arthur on the throne, with the help of Excalibur, events conspire against him to frustrate his plans for benevolent rule. Mab orchestrates events that lead to Arthur sleeping with his half-sister Morgan Le Fey. She gives birth to Mordred. He grows up to be a malicious, conniving wrongdoer. Meanwhile Arthur leaves Lancelot and Guinevere in charge of the kingdom while he quests for the Holy Grail. They betray him by becoming romantically involved. Mab informs Mordred of this and he uses it to seed the plant of discontent in King Arthur’s court. Mab also manages to persuade Nimue to entice Merlin away from Camelot, by promising to remove her disfiguring scars. Merlin is happy to accept Nimue’s invitation but is pulled away once again. He can sense that a great battle has ensued and that both Arthur and Mordred lay dying. He goes to Arthur’s side and returns Excalibur to the lake at Arthur’s request. With Frik’s help, Merlin is eventually reunited with Nimue after many years and they live out the rest of their lives together in the forest.
Arthur Asks Merlin To Throw Excalibur Into The Lake