Sunday, 10 April 2011

'CAMELOT' 1.3 – "Guinevere"

Sunday, 10 April 2011

After a two-part opening that played like an average Hallmark television movie, "Guinevere" was a step backwards in most respects. It juggled three storylines poorly, and I'm still not sure it's a wise decision to have given Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower) ready-made legitimacy with a shiny crown, loyal knights, an impressive castle, and devoted subjects.There's still the long-term goal of uniting the whole country and toppling evil Morgan (Eva Green) from his late-father's throne, but it feels like the story's already past the halfway mark.

This week, Leontes (Philip Winchester) rode off on a quest to obtain the loyalty of renowned knight-trainer Gawaine (Clive Standen) to ply his trade at Camelot, and his absence gave Arthur the opportunity to woo his friend's fiancée Guinevere (Tamsin Egerton) the day before their wedding. Concomitantly, Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) accompanied Arthur on a diplomatic mission to Morgan's court, who appears to have calmed down since they last spoke. But while naïve Arthur believes there's a chance of lasting peace with his sister (if they just get to know each other), it becomes clear that Morgan's keeping her true feelings a secret and still wants to reign as queen. Merlin also started to fear for Morgan's health after being given proof she's dabbling in magic, as it's a practice even he's reticent to use because of the costs involved.

There are a number of challenges facing Camelot at this early stage, and a big one's going to be teasing this legend out over ten episodes and beyond. I still suspect they were needlessly hasty with the two-part premiere, as I'm not hugely interested in seeing Camelot slowly restored to its Roman glory, and boy-king Arthur becoming less of a metrosexual fop. Still, as I said in my inaugural review last weekend, there are a few commendable creative choices from showrunner Chris Chibnall (such as magic being something that comes at great personal cost), but the wider story and supporting characters have yet to impress me.

I really like one subversion of the traditional legend, though: with Arthur being the person disrupting a marriage, although making Guinevere complicit kind of spoils things. It makes you wonder why she bothered to go through with her wedding to Leontes, if she has feelings for her dashing new king. We haven't seen enough of the relationship between Guinevere and Leontes to make us understand why she'd remain loyal to her betrothed, or why calling the wedding off would be inadvisable. It didn't help that Leontes had practically no screentime with his bride-to-be here, either -- particularly as the Gawaine subplot he was involved with was, frankly, a pointless distraction.

I'm still in two-minds about Joseph Fiennes' performance. His Merlin's unlike any version of the character I can remember, but perhaps there was a reason nobody's played Merlin as an uptight puppetmaster before. He's a hard man to like, and Fiennes is only just edging into so-bad-it's-good territory, but we'll have to see where he takes it. I did enjoy seeing Merlin pull the reigns on Arthur's expanding ego by pointedly reminding him how everything he's becoming is down to him; it showed how Merlin demands respect, and that Arthur's egomania could be his undoing once he's fully established as king. If you know the Arthurian legend, it feels like Camelot's already going down the path where Arthur doesn't quite attain the exacting standards Merlin requires for his masterplan to work. Arthur's likely affair with Guinevere behind her husband's back speaks to those flaws, too.

Overall, Camelot fumbled the ball here. It's annoyingly eager to rush through its tale, perhaps because it knows everyone watching is aware of the Arthurian legend -- which I can understand. However, things are moving so fast they've forgotten to lay firm foundations between the characters. The Arthur/Guinevere/Leontes love-triangle should be a key emotional part of this seasons' storyline, but we just don't know the characters well enough to care, so it's not working. Any attachment we have is a vestigial response to the Arthurian story itself, not Camelot in particular.

More speed, less haste, my liege.


  • Is Leontes supposed to be Sir Lancelot? It would be helpful to know if that's the case, definitively, as audiences risk being very confused if Lancelot makes his debut in the weeks to come. I'm going to assume Leontes is Lancelot for now, and grumble about the writers being needlessly imprecise. Lancelot's an acceptable name, and one that has mythical currency along with Merlin and Arthur, so why not embrace that?
  • It just dawned on me that the Fiennes brothers are playing famous sorcerers from opposite ends of the moral compass, as Ralph Fiennes famously plays Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies.
written by Louis Fox (story by Chris Chibnall & Louise Fox) / directed by Jeremy Podeswa / 8 April 2011 / Starz