‘Tis a Silly Place: Camelot

On my way to bed last night, I decided that before I turned in I would watch something that would help my brain switch off, preferably something glossy and utterly mindless. After a quick browse through iPlayer and 4od, I managed to find something so mindless I can’t even say for certain whether anyone involved in making it is technically alive. After it was over I was comatose for 14 hours.

The show I’m referring to is a brand new medieval fantasy from Starz Entertainment, the good people behind the David Starkey documentary Spartacus: Blood on the Sand (I’m kidding – it’s not actually a documentary and Starkey only briefly cameos as a mighty gladiator rutting in the background during one of the orgy scenes). Entitled Camelot, it’s a retelling of the Arthurian legend, large in scope and ‘adult’ in tone. Everyone knows what adults do – they have sex and they swear and they hit each other with swords, and Camelot does its best to faithfully represent this behaviour, whether or not it’s appropriate or makes any dramatic sense.

Considering this is one of the twaddliest loads of balls around at the moment, the cast is impressively high-profile. Right from the beginning we encounter Sebastian Koch as grumpy King Uther – I couldn’t quite place him until I looked him up and remembered that he had quite a good previous role as the lead in the The Lives of Others. (Camelot is not as good as The Lives of Others.) He is talking to his unhappy daughter Morgan, played by another well-known European actor, Eva Green, seemingly trying to seduce everyone and everything at all times. She’s not happy about her treatment at her father’s hands (15 years in a nunnery apparently – I assume that in a later episode the nuns return in force to reclaim her) and offers him her forgiveness, although she still seems angry with his wife for some reason and repeatedly calls her a whore. Uther disowns her (‘Get thee to a different nunnery!’ he doesn’t say unfortunately) and she responds by turning into a little girl and poisoning him. As Uther chokes, a cloaked figure runs full pelt through the forest – this turns out to be, not the murderer from Hot Fuzz, but instead Joseph Fiennes as an intense, bald Merlin. It’s not explained why he’s shaved all his hair off, but I assume he must be some kind of bizarro-Samson whose baldness is the source of his power.

Just before Uther dies Merlin grabs his hand and makes him sign something making his bastard son Arthur the heir to the kingdom, and then he leaves, I imagine sprinting and hooded like he came, to track Arthur down. Then arrives the most compelling reason to watch this ridiculous program, in the form of a booming, great-big-bushy-bearded James Purefoy, as King Lot, a baddie. He charges in bellowing with his men and encounters Morgan, whose seductive manner stands her in good stead as they exchange this immortal dialogue (best seen for yourself; it’s roughly 12min 30secs into the first episode):

Lot: Why would you call me here?

Morgan: (seductively) To offer an alliance.

Lot: Who with?

Morgan: (seductively) Me.

Lot: (à la Brian Blessed) HAHAHAHAHA! You?

Morgan: (circling him seductively) Who better than you: King Lot, my father’s strongest opponent.

Pause. Lot is clearly aroused.

Lot: I am immune to flattery.

James Purefoy’s delivery of this last line deserves some kind of prize, possibly even one of the Nobels.

Just prior to this incredible scene we witnessed the introduction of Arthur himself. As I mentioned before, Camelot is aware of the necessity of including sexy bits and sweary bits along with the swordy bits, but weaving these first two elements into the narrative is haphazardly accomplished. There must have been some kind of contractual obligation to have boobs in the first ten minutes, which is the only reason for the thirty second soft-core porn scene we find Arthur in when we first meet him, busoming a fine wench or whatever the appropriate medieval terminology is. His brother Kay turns up and the saucy fun is brought to an abrupt conclusion when it turns out the lady is Kay’s girlfriend. Rather than being genuinely angry about this, Kay reacts as though he’d caught Arthur playing irresponsibly with his new bicycle or pissing on a holy relic – they argue a bit but then they both leave without her and immediately forget she ever existed. I’m sure her boobs will be on hand in case the producers think they will be needed in a later episode. The other sex scene involving Arthur feels just as crowbarred in – he dreams about slow-motion, soft-focus beach sex with a lot of heavy breathing and visible nipples, probably inspired by a Mills & Boon novel called ‘King Arthur and the Torn Bodice’ or something. The only raunchiness which has my 100% backing is the inevitable encounter between Morgan and Lot, who shriek about how ambitious they are as they go at it. It ends as all good sex should – him climaxing with a shout of ‘Bloooood!’

Camelot is also uneven when it comes to the swearing. I barely noticed it most of the time and then some way through the second episode Morgan says angrily to Lot, ‘You underestimated him! You’re a lazy cunt!’ Admittedly a great line, but a little incongruous with the rest of the dialogue. Again, you get the feeling that someone read the script and was concerned there wasn’t any way to describe it as ‘the Sopranos of Arthurian TV shows’, but there would be if you dropped the c-bomb once or twice. In case I hadn’t made it clear, the whole script is, in general, so clichéd and bland it’s hard to believe anyone would spend tens of pounds bringing it to life, let alone millions. This particular exchange between Merlin and someone else occurs about a hundred times, with minor grammatical variations:

Merlin: You must [something].

Someone else: What if I can’t?

Merlin: You must.

Even heard once, it makes Merlin sound like a hopeful man with his fingers crossed rather than a genius with an intricate plan centuries in the making. After hearing it the thirtieth time, you start to suspect Merlin of the sort of wild crackpottery that would suggest Arthur has about as much chance of uniting all Britons as he does of reaching the moon. ‘Arthur, you must climb into the sky and retrieve the moon.’ ‘What if I can’t?’ ‘You must. And then you must grow an extra set of legs and astonish the people with your showjumping.’ ‘But that’s impossible!’ ‘You must.’

There are other problems with the show. Arthur is the least charismatic, nambiest pamby in the history of warrior-kings. The actor who plays him looks like he would be much more comfortable combing his hair and practising his pout on 90210, not rousing grizzled old veterans to his command in medieval England. Not that they are actually all that grizzled – right-hand man Leontes has a haircut straight out of a VO5 ad, but at least he’s got a commander’s chin. Even Arthur’s brother looks way more manly than him – they could have just swapped the actors. The plot is also full of gaping holes: ‘I’m no monster,’ claims Lot, having just slaughtered Arthur’s mother in cold blood, and then says he will wait five days before attacking Camelot. This fellow Arthur appears to be the only thing standing between Lot and Uther’s kingdom – why wait five days exactly? Why not attack immediately? It’s also not at all clear why, on the day of Lot’s attack, they apparently forget about it entirely and celebrate Arthur’s coronation by turning Camelot in to some kind of medieval nightclub with an open-door policy.

There’s more to enjoy here: Sean Pertwee’s turn as Arthur’s foster-dad for example (he must be saying something but all I hear is a cement-mixer), the odd moments which are complete Monty Python (such as the scenes on the windswept, misty moors), or the bit where Kay seems to be strong enough to lift Arthur’s entire weight up a cliff by himself. The best moment of all comes right at the end, where for no clear reason, although presumably with some kind of dire purpose or other in mind, Eva Green flashes her tits at a wolf. I suggest you go check it out if you have a couple of hours going spare. I myself am going to watch episode 3, and maybe even write about it here if it’s entertaining enough. I’ll be disappointed if there’s not at least one wolf/boob scene per episode from here on in.

  1. Hi there just wanted to give you a quick heads
    up. The words in your post seem to be running off the screen
    in Firefox. I’m not sure if this is a format issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to
    let you know. The style and design look great though!
    Hope you get the issue solved soon. Many thanks

    • BOB
    • September 3rd, 2013

    I absolutely hate Morgan!!! she is a maneating cowbag!! I hate her 10000 %! Maneater!!!! Turn her into a pig!!

    • trevor
    • May 30th, 2014


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