Review: Starz's Camelot

Starz takes another step into period original
series, this time exploring the King Arthur myth.

The premium network’s
Camelot frames the tale
from the perspective of the
young’s man coming of age
before a kingdom. Based on
the two-hour pilot, it’s a take
worth tracking, provided Jamie
Campbell Bower, cast as the
royal, can grow into a man capable of leading all of Britain in
the wake of his father Uther’s poisoning.

At the outset, Joseph Fiennes’ Merlin doles out words
of intrigue and just enough information to entice the
young man to join him at Camelot’s dilapidated court,
while keeping his protege and the audience wondering
about his next dark vision.

You won’t have to guess that Eva Green (Casino Royale)
is a scene-stealer — if not a series-stealer — as Arthur’s
half-sister Morgan. She plays the prologue in parts evil,
distant and yearning as she returns home from 15 years of
sequestration in a nunnery. Fortunately for the viewer, her
remarks about daddy’s wife, Igraine (Claire Folani), being a
whore are greeted with a slap to the face, leaving her bent
on revenge and securing her heiress claim to Uther’s throne.
An alliance with her father’s rival, Lot (James Purefoy), is
strategic and ribald, but not quick or violent enough for her
liking. Her comments about her new partner’s complacency
didn’t bode well for the would-be king.

But those expecting a seventh-century version of the
gore, language and sex of Starz’s Spartacus franchise will
be disappointed. The computer-generated beheadings and
spurting blood are absent, replaced by more traditional depictions
of death during the first couple of hours. Some of
the language is quite florid, if not as profane as Spartacus,
while the sex is less gratuitous and frequent than in the
gladiator series or Showtime’s The Tudors. That series’ creator
and executive producer, Michael Hirst, serves in those
roles for this Starz series.

By the end of the two-hour pilot, Arthur has extracted
Excalibur, albeit not exactly in clean fashion; been
crowned king; and met Guinevere (Tasmin Egerton) in an
entwined, enraptured vision; and then, in person, only to
discover that she’s the bethrothed of his loyalist Leontes
(Philip Winchester). More importantly, it’s been well established
that Morgan’s not content to be Britain’s
second best and that she and Merlin may have some
ties that extend beyond sorcery.

As for the lead, Campbell Bower comes off as insouciant
in his life as a commoner. The audience meets
him frolicking with his the ex of his brother, Kay (Peter
Mooney), near a brook. After some soul-searching and
familial prodding, Arthur reluctantly agrees to pursue his
destiny with Merlin, questioning his birth, his role and
whether he’ll have the fortitude to make the transition
to the throne. His portrait of the young man ascending
to royalty is redolent with the uncertainty of dawning
adulthood, interspersed by moments of maturity and a
growing sense of place. Presumably, Campbell Brower’s
progression will keep the story ascending as Morgan and
Merlin engulf his realm with their brands of wizardry.

The series debuts with a two-hour premiere event at 10 p.m. on April 1. Single episodes will follow in that time slot.