Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mer Maid

The gorgeous Katie McGrathI’m not quite sure why I like the BBC’s “Merlin”.

It’s just as anachronistic as the Beeb’s “Robin Hood” ever was but somehow it has managed to annoy me far less. It just doesn’t jar or set my teeth on edge the way that RH did. Admittedly the “Merlin” costume dept. hasn’t seen fit to deck the Knights of Camelot out in Clint Eastwood style duster coats (as worn by the Merry Men in one famous RH episode) or dragged the invention of gunpowder across a few continents and up a few centuries.

I also suspect that there is something “looser” about the King Arthur legend. It’s not as tightly pinned down historically as Robin Hood. It is rife with magic and magic gives a writer carte blanche to take a few liberties and bend the facts a little… It’s to be expected and acceptable. And at the end of the day the “facts” around King Arthur have all been bent out of true anyway. Our present day take on the legend is a hundred miles away from that of the original (?) Welsh legend. Sir Thomas Mallory, lawd bless ‘im, was the Barbara Cartland of his day.

“Merlin” is also perfect Saturday night teatime family viewing. It knows its place and is happy to settle in there like a Phoenix plumping its nest. It’s got legs aplenty and I’m sure it will run and run whereas I feel that the “Robin Hood” production team rather shot their bolt prematurely with the last series of RH and have left themselves nowhere worthwhile to go.

The effects in “Merlin” are a little on the dodgy / cheap side but acceptable – i.e. they’re good BBC standard but would be laughed off the big screen. The castle is suitably grand and whimsical – far too European to be British, of course – and occasionally borders on the Walt Disney but I can overlook that. I’m also prepared to overlook the chain-mail armour which I’m sure wasn’t around for a hundred years or so after Arthur’s existence and the fact that even the poorest of peasants seem to live in substantial stone walled dwellings that would fetch a fair price on the modern day property market.

This largesse from one so normally picky and pedantic is due in some small part to the actors. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no performance here that is going to win someone a Bafta or an OBE – the script just doesn’t have that kind of range – but it’s all very well done and the actors are obviously committed. The tongue-in-cheek-ness that so ruined RH and made it a virtual pantomime is gratifyingly absent and instead we have full-on “BBC costume drama earnestness”.

And that is not a complaint.

I suspect “Merlin” is going to be a jumping board for a new batch of British TV stars who will go on to bigger and better things. Colin Morgan and Bradley James give good value as Merlin and Arthur respectively – they’re kind of an Arthurian version of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte only without the man hugs and Aloysius the teddy bear. Anthony Head is pretty good as Uther though I can’t take his moments of gravitas seriously at all. I don’t know what it is – God knows I was never a Buffy fan – but whenever Mr Head talks I just feel like I’m listening to him present a voice-over to Heroes Unmasked or a Channel 5 documentary about the pervy religious rites of the Mayans.

And then there’s Richard Wilson as Gaius. What can I say? He’s so damned good I’d actually stopped making “I don’t believe it” jokes by the end of the second episode. Nuff said.

For me though the biggest pull (as if you haven’t guessed) is Katie McGrath as the poised and lofty Morgana. Hey, she’s a brunette, OK? And she steps neatly into the Saturday night TV totty void created when Lucy Griffiths’ Marion was insanely killed off in the last series of RH. Karen gave me a raised eyebrow when I purred my approval of Morgana and suggested that Gwen (Guinevere), played by Angel Coulby, seemed a far more fiery and passionate a prospect for a young man’s desire than Morgana who was plainly much too much of a “lady”. “Lady” said with a haughty, hoity-toity down-the-nose sneer.

And I have to agree. Gwen is far more of a wench than a lady and, yes, she’s comely enough (sire) but, in my (sadly) limited experience, wenches tend to be mere ladies in bed while ladies are definitely, most definitely wenches…

27 comments:

Daisy said...

i havent seen this show...will have to see if i can get a feed for it...sounds like my cup of tea

Brother Tobias said...

I'm not finding it so easy. Sometimes for the reasons you graciously forgive. Also I think I got too steeped in Arturian (did you spot the poncy scholarly pronunciation there?)legend, tramping around Welsh and West Country hill forts in the past. Plus struggling with pre-conceived images from Mary Stewart's remarkably good Merlin trilogy.

Steve said...

Daisy, one thing about the Arthurian legend is that it travels extremely well. I'd certainly recommend the show - it's fun, family friendly but not insubstantial.

Steve said...

It's interesting which legends are the most precious to us, isn't it, Brother T? I know where you are coming from because I had the same issues with the Beeb's Robin Hood. Although I always enjoyed the Arthur legend as a boy (and indeed still do), Robin Hood is - for whatever reasons - sacred to me and I found the Beeb's modern outing sheer sacrilege and had to grit my teeth in each episode... yet couldn't bring myself to not watch it. My knowledge of Arthur is probably influenced by Mallory's rehashing - and once you've accepted one rehashing it becomes easy to accept another - though I do wish they hadn't cleaned up the nature of Arthur's conception; I always enjoyed the idea of Uther's deception.

TimeWarden said...

The version of the Arthur legend I'm most familiar with is John Boorman's "Excalibur" which takes itself very seriously compared to the latest retelling.

Arthur's early maturing, in the Beeb's version, has helped the show get quickly on track after the character started out a bit of a pillock!

I feel the same way about "Doctor Who" you do "Robin Hood", Steve. Despite the Doctor being a much more recent legend, the rewriting of Time Lord history might've been more acceptable, to me, if Chris Eccleston had been referred to as the First Doctor and Tennant the Second rather than Ninth and Tenth. The Producers wanted the link to the original, just not too much of a link in order to both have their cake and eat it!

Steve said...

Hi TimeWarden, I have a great fondness for Boorman's version - one of the great films of my childhood. It's an interesting idea regarding DW and one, I must admit, I hadn't considered - but you're right: a complete restart would have freed them up from various plot constraints and freed fans up trying to reconcile the past DW series with the new. I guess they wanted to buy into the kudos of the original and the idea of the "last doctor".

You know the more I think about it, the more your idea seems to be the best. They missed a trick there I reckon.

Reluctant Blogger said...

I haven't watched either programme so probably shouldn't comment! In terms of the legend I do prefer King Arthur to Robin Hood but neither captivates me greatly.

I tend to only watch programmes when there is someone in them who I fancy (well, except The Apprentice - I do NOT have a thing for Alan Sugar!), otherwise I tend to fall asleep. And I also don't switch on the TV before 9pm and I suspect this programme is on earlier. Well, except for Top Gear - actually I am talking rubbish Steve cos Top Gear is on before 9 and also has no-one in who I fancy!!

I shall go away and talk rubbish elsewhere!

Steve said...

Gina, you rarely talk rubbish and if you ever do you're always welcome to talk it here! ;-) I think we're geared up as a species to look for an attractive face in whatever situation we find ourselves in and TV is no different... or rather we automatically filter people into "attractive" and "not so attractive" categories. And, let's be honest, an attractive TV host is going to keep you watching far more regularly than one who isn't. But yes. Then there is Top Gear which I also love - and yet don't fancy any of the presenters and have no interest in cars whatsoever. Go figure!

The Dotterel said...

Oh no - how much of this have I missed? And why? (Thanks for the tip - agree heartily about Katie M!!)

Steve said...

Sorry Dotterel, they've just broadcast episode 10 of 13 - I guess I should have reviewed the show a bit earlier! However, have no fear, I'm sure the Beeb will be rerunning the entire series on one of its many derivative channels very soon.

Lucy Fishwife said...

As a scholar of the Arthur myth (from Mabinogion to Chretien de Troyes) I appreciate its flexibility - although Mr F has discovered that the best way to get me frothing with outraged ivory-tower pedantry is to make me watch Excalibur - it's the moment where Nigel Terry says "Oi love 'er!!" of Guinevere. But all i can say of TV crushes currently available is : John Simm. In "The Devil's Whore". Playing a character called Sexby. I laughed until I drooled.

Lucy Fishwife said...

PS Have to add though that I still have a soft spot for the huge Wagnerien soundtrack on Excalibur though. All together now : annal natrach...uthvas bethud...

Steve said...

Hi Lucy, sadly Karen and I missed The Devil's Whore - another thing for us to catch up on when everybody else has moved onto TV pastures new!

The music in Excalibur is hugely emotive and sticks in ones mind - though I tend to associate Carl Orff with the film more than Wagner - particularly the scene when they all charge into battle on their horses. Stirring stuff!

KAZ said...

Perhaps I should have tried Merlin as I haven't a clue what Little Dorrit is all about.

Steve said...

I'm rather confused by it myself, Kaz - which one is Jane Austen?

Tristan said...

For once we agree about women (although I'm somewhat confused by your medieval sexual observation). Morgana is bewitchingly beautiful, haughty or not.

Steve said...

Tris: care to duel for her (dis)honour? ;-)

Tristan said...

I have a feeling that our battle would be entirely futile, unless she has the most bizarre taste in men!

Steve said...

I wish I could counter that.

The Sagittarian said...

Haven't seen this yet...I miss having a programme to follow now that Torchwood is done and Dr Who also. Obviously something for us to look forward to eh? In the meantime I have found myself watching Bonekickers on and off.

Rol said...

Your initial question answered itself immediately with the photographic evidence you provided.

Obviously I've not watched the show, though they keep running ads for it at the local fleapit of all places... My reaction to those (beyond cheering at Antony Stewart Head) was that Merlin himself doesn't look partyicularly leading man-ish. I hope he's a decent actor to make up for that.

Annie said...

I never saw Robin Hood, Steve, but I'm absolutely LOVING Merlin. I think Colin Morgan is lovely - too young as totty but I'd happily adopt him. Anthony Head is nearer my age but I agree with you, it's difficult to take him seriously, especially after seeing David Walliams snog him in Little Britain!
Yes, Richard Wilson is a brilliant Gaius. Very enjoyable production.

Steve said...

I wasn't impressed with Bonekickers, Amanda, but Merlin is a treat. Definitely something to look forward to.

Very astute Rol - is that your polite way of telling me I needn't have bothered writing such a lengthy post? ;-) The acting isn't award winning in the show but it ain't bad either. Nothing for anyone to be ashamed of once they've gone onto better things. Sounds like I'm damning it with faint praise but that really isn't the case.

Annie, I find his Obama ears a bit distracting but apart from that he's very engaging and isn't annoying at all - which is quite a feat!

MOTHER OF MANY said...

I am like LucyFishwife and know too much about the Arthur Myth as it was a big part of my degree and am with her all the way on John Simm In "The Devil's Whore".

Steve said...

Hi Ally, I guess a little knowledge is a dangerous thing - especially when it comes to current BBC dramas! Maybe the BBC research dept. needs to go back to school?

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Steve said...

"dale tuck"? You really are a big Robin Hood fan, aren't you?