Camelot - First two episodes reviewed
Review by Jack Foley
CHANNEL 4’s lavish new period drama Camelot feels like a bit of a booby prize in more ways than one to anyone currently enthralled by Sky Atlantic’s far superior Game of Thrones
Brought to us by the same people responsible for both The Tudors and Spartacus: Blood & Sand, Camelot follows a well trodden format of delivering historical epics in as much OTT style as possible. That is to say, placing more of an emphasis on blood and breasts than historical fact or authenticity.
Hence, where Game of Thrones exists in a fantastical realm, and so can make its own rules, Camelot is born from true (though much interpreted) legend much like HBO’s Rome or BBC’s The Tudors.
What results is a show that’s likely to divide the purists, while appealing to those that like cheap blood-letting and unnecessary titilation.
Not that the tits on show are a bad thing, belonging as they do to the beautiful likes of Eva (Casino Royale) Green and Tamsin (St Trinian’s) Egerton. But they do often get in the way of the drama and character building.
Camelot, thus far, has been all about building the legend of King Arthur. It began in bloody fashion, as Green’s dark destroyer Morgan organised the murder of her father, King Uther (Sebastian Koch), and attempted to take the throne for herself with the aid of his arch-rival King Lot (James Purefoy).
This, in turn, paved the way for Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) to claim Uther’s unknown son, Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower), from his adoptive family and install him to the throne of the disused castle of Camelot, thereby placing him on a collision course with Morgan and Lot’s army.
Nevertheless, with the smallest of armies to protect them, Merlin set about enhancing Arthur’s reputation by having him claim the sword in the stone (the sword of the Gods, aka Excalibur) and striking fear into any potential rivals.
Alas, with Campbell Bower in the lead, the capacity to strike fear – let alone belief – requires a bit of a stretch. Though boyishly good-looking and suitably in awe of his newfound position, the Twilight star did little to suggest any depth beyond his gaze.
His Arthur – unlike Richard Harris’s most famous namesake, or even Sean Connery in First Knight – lacks gravitas and the show feels lightweight as a result. It’s not a criticism Campbell Bower looks equipped to combat at this stage.
Similarly, the developing love triangle between Arthur and Tamsin Egerton’s Guinevere (who is betrothed to Philip Winchester’s Leontes) seems superfluous given the knowledge that Arthur is destined to win her (before Lancelot arrives to mix things up a bit).
At the moment, the scenes between them look very much like an excuse to put two attractive actors together – often unclothed and in soft focus lighting – without any real reason for their attraction.
Faring better were the likes of Fiennes, as the suitably mysterious Merlin, Green as the evil Morgan and Purefoy as her right-hand man. But, if I’m being honest, all were struggling to make their characters feel like flesh and blood given the ham-fisted nature of the script, which reduced everything to basics and everyone to ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
And it’s here that Camelot is found to be truly wanting, given that none of the characters were really worth caring about. Even the villains, more often the most colourful characters in any show, lacked something – whether it’s because having Green’s Morgan talk to the mist while exposing her breasts is just plain silly, or because they’ve killed one of the best ones off already (Purefoy’s King Lot).
The overall result is therefore extremely silly and difficult to properly engage with – a failing that Game of Thrones seems to avoid in effortless fashion. It already faces an uphill struggle to keep my loyalty and attention.
Camelot airs on Channel 4 on Saturday nights from 9pm.