[sic] Magazine

Camelot (TV)

Is Sword and Sorcery the new Rock and Roll?

I certainly hope so! What with the recent explosion of mystical, magical and historical dramas gracing our screens it would seem fantasy is the so-far sensation of 2011. There’s the much awaited Game of Thrones stimulating hardcore literature nerds on HBO, Spartacus Blood and Sand entertaining the gamers, live twitter updates from the set of The Hobbit for film buffs, the Tudors for the Hollyoaks crowd and now Camelot … for the idiots. One of many tired adaptations of an already exhausted story, channel four’s Camelot fails to deliver in so many areas. Dialogue, acting, costume and historical accuracy are initial areas of unease; however, most disappointingly of all is Camelot’s lazy and predictable lack of originality.

If the target audience for Camelot was indeed “idiots” (as quipped above-if you need that pointing out you might just be one) then bravo! The dialogue complied with the intended viewers no doubt. Note the delightful use of Arthurian phrases “There’s gotta be more than this, right?” Bask in the glory of unnecessary profanities- “you lazy cunts!” – revel in inexcusable clichés:
“You’re not welcome here.”
“Not even an old friend?”
-sound familiar? Lord of the Rings fans, I’m talking to you. But worse still even than this is the pitiful attempt at ‘acting’-you know, when you read words from paper to a camera? You can get degrees in it now. Pretty boy prince Arthur sounds like he took a wrong turn from Eton and accidentally wound up in a Medieval village. Jamie Campbell Bower succeeds in adding unintended humour to the roll due to his inexplicable RP accent, most poignantly when he attempts to act surprised at discovering he is the son of a king…did the accent not give it away sunshine? The plot is presented in a piteously unimaginative way, which weirdly is reflected within much of the acting. Most of them don’t seem to care and the rest aren’t really trying. Atop this it feels like there’s only about twenty people in it in total and as many as two sets: One of which is an abandoned castle, the other a similar looking castle used for interior shots…which may in fact be the same castle. The rest of this glossy drama is shot mostly in fields or on empty hillsides. Did they not have a budget? Or did they spend it entirely on air brushing during the many scenes of gratuitous, unnecessary nudity.

Arguably, fantasy and gratuitous sex and blood are a must have in any twenty first century adaptation. HBO’s Game of Thrones has been consistently criticized for its apparently “unnecessary” sex scenes (whereas Blood and Sand has somehow slipped through the net of the Haze Code mourners) However, there’s a difference between gratuitous and tasteful, sex scenes that are used to enhance and often assist in the telling of a story which otherwise can only be described in a written narrative-impossible to broadcast through the medium of television without omniscient narration. Camelot is unaware of these imperatives. The show views as one desperately trying to prove it’s “adult” viewing and not merely another Doctor Who . Which it basically is.

More aggravating still is the design. Everyone and everything looks too modern. The women are all powdered, clean and blow-dried. The men are shaved, scrubbed and have the latest fashionable short-cuts. Merlin has a shaved head! I appreciate the attempts at stylistically straying from the stereotypical image of the fantasy sage (long hair, bushy beard, cloak, staff etc) but do you know why most people had long hair in the Middle Ages? Straight razors. I mean, I know Merlin’s a wizard and everything but to get that close a shave with what is essentially a wet dagger-now that’s a skill beyond magic.

Most critics have taken a similar (less cutting) view of the show so here’s a new one for you: the slight retelling of the Arthurian legend has somehow come across as spitefully misogynistic. Obviously, as an unmarried woman with at least two pairs of jeans, saying this makes me a man-hating feminazi clearly. But hear me out: I appreciate that dramas set in the Medieval period are naturally going to contain swooning, dutiful women who tend their Lords every will as was their intended purpose during this period. Concurrently as a fan of the Arthurian legend I am fully aware that Morgan Le Fay is one of several antagonists…but altering the adaptation so that Le Fay really is the rightful, legitimate heir to her deceased father’s throne… and STILL denying it to her? It feels almost like the writer was spiting an already pitiful character and the very fact that Morgan is quite possibly the only strong female character within the series (who on top of this is fighting for her birth right) actually makes me really like her…which I’m pretty sure was not the intention.

It’s not that I’m being intentionally cynical about this. I promise you, I so wanted to enjoy this. The Arthurian tale is both near and dear to my heart and that is why I despised this adaptation so much. Not only is it a contrived retelling of a rather brilliant historical story but the amateurish and exhausted production only increased my disappointment. If it’s really exposure to the Arthurian legend you’re after, my personal suggestion would be to read Peter Kerry’s The Scribe -a long awaited original take on the legend. Or better yet, visit King Arthur’s Labyrinth cave exhibition in North Wales-a feast for the eyes, ears and mind. I can assure you, you will absorb more in substance from both these alternatives than the most recent adaptation.