Thursday, June 23, 2011

Camelot: Looking for King Arthur's iPod

Sword and sauciness really does seem to be the televisual flavour of the moment. In the last few years we’ve had Rome, two series of Spartacus, The Tudors and the towering majesty that was Game Of Thrones.

All have featured – to a greater or lesser extent – swordplay, intrigue and no small amount of nudity in a pseudo-historical context.

Michael Hirst, the creator and writer of The Tudors has rebooted or reimagined or rehashed the legend of King Arthur for us, the easily-pleased 21st Century television audience.


You can make a grown-up sexy King Arthur. Just ask John Boorman. You can make a family-friendly Camelot story for tea-time audiences too. It’s called Merlin, and it’s doing fairly well thank you.

But I don’t think you can do both.

I'm going to try to summarise the ambitious, sexy new Camelot without saying either Cum-a-lot or Cam-a-LOLs. wish me luck.

Sure there are proper actors in Camelot. Two actors, indeed, that I admire very much played a major part in episode one.

James Purefoy, who was a barrel of laughs in Rome, chewed more than his fair share of the scenery as the villainous King Lot.

Sean Pertwee, who probably has the manliest speaking voice of any living actor, showed up as Arthur’s manly-sounding adoptive father.

In a slightly anticlimactic final showdown, however, they both met fates that should save the Radio Times listings compiler the inconvenience of typing their names again.

Which represents, I am sure you will notice, a substantial payroll saving.

And that’s why it’s worth assessing the first two episodes of Camelot together, rather than allowing ourselves to be won over by the big-budget blandishments of episode one.
You know those superb magazines that build week by week into a mouldering silverfish hotel in the corner of your spare room? They’ve normally got a thimble or a figurine of a well-loved newsreader bubble-mounted to the cover of each issue.

That’s what Camelot is like. Episode 1 went overboard with the acting, the violence and the nudity. Every male character treated us to a glimpse of his sit-upon and every female character slipped her vest off for a minute or two.

Episode 2? Well, I’ll get to that.

The question is – can killing and tits alone win over enough viewers to make the series sustainable? Or do you need proper acting too?

Eva Green falls into the ‘proper actor’ category. Even if playful colleagues keep smearing Marmite on her binoculars, lending her the appearance of a sulky panda, she’s still respected as someone who knows her craft.

Nevertheless, the producers of Camelot realised that we’d got to the end of the first episode without seeing her chest, so there was a quick gratuitous boob flash just as the credits were about to roll.

Now, I’m a heterosexual gentleman. In common with many of my type, I find the sight of naked or half-naked women pleasing. However…

I do not like to see naked women in the following contexts: In newspapers, on advertising hoardings, in public thoroughfares, in restaurants or crudely shoehorned into TV dramas just to convince me that they’re adult fare and not just a BBC schools show dressed up for the HBO demographic.

I don’t mind being patronised or pandered to. I just don’t like it when it’s so obvious I can’t kid myself that I’m not being patronised.

The other thesp who survived that season premiere Götterdammerung was Joseph Feinnes. His portrayal of Merlin plays down the Paul Daniels aspect of the character and goes for a more Machiavellian approach.

Eva Green’s Morgan Le Fay can perform dark magic that consists for the most part of transforming into a hollow-eyed schoolgirl. Merlin makes it very clear that he could do that, but…y’know…can’t be bothered. In the manner of the playground bullshitter who was thrown out of the SAS for being too hard.

I’m sure he’s do something sooner or later. For now, though, he comes across as a bit of a necromancing knob.

In the second episode we get a much better idea of what the show will actually be like. Jamie Campbell Bower takes centre stage, naturally enough, as the young King Arthur.

You may not be able to define ‘callow’. You may think it’s some kind of disappointing chocolate substitute that they use in diabetic sweets. Let’s clear that up right now. Master Campbell Bower is callow. He’s the very definition of callow. If anyone asks you what callow means, show them a picture of Jamie Campbell Bower.

He’s got some egregiously wispy facial hair too.

He spends most of his time mooning over Guinevere, The Duchess Of Hollyoaks and uses any spare moments looking around the authentic Iron Age sets for his iPod.

Unfortunately Guinevere is promised to a Men’s Health model who isn’t in the original stories and is therefore subject to whatever whim may strike the writer.

The breezy ‘whatever’ acting style of the younger participants is a refreshing contrast to the rigorous mugging of Fiennes and Green.

It’s all absolute rubbish, of course. Will I be watching for the rest of the series?

You bet, my liege.

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