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21 September 2008 @ 09:15 am
Merlin 1.0  
The stated concept behind this series had me rolling my eyes. I've long out-grown any desire to see teen-angst meets King Arthur. The set dressing didn't exactly help my opinion and I regret the decision to make magic appear more as something mechanical than something mystical. All that said, somewhere along the way, this first episode won me over.

I think, for a start, that the set dressing, jarring as it appeared at first, reminds me rather powerfully of the illustrations in the Ladybird Fairytale books I grew up with. The sparklingly clean, brightly lit, castle; its denizens elegantly dressed in a loose mix of medieval fantasy and taffeta confections and the determined effort to reject anything that smacked of realism was actually rather nostalgic. I was reminded of a speaker at the Arthurian Society, whose name I have long forgotten, who posited that the essential theme of nearly all the Arthurian retellings is the attempt to build a utopia and its ultimate failure and that each retelling is fundamentally about a contemporary conception of utopia. In that light this bizarrely rose-tinted vision, marred only by Uther's hard line on magic, makes a certain thematic sense. Merlin, Morgana and Guinevere speak like modern liberal idealists who will educate and shape a modern fairytale utopia via their interactions with Arthur and already we see the the hints of the tangled love-lives of the four that may ultimately bring that utopia crashing down. Of course the jury is yet out on whether that is the thematic course this series intends to steer.

Katie McGrath didn't entirely convince me as Morgana but then she had really very little air time in this first episode. Angel Coulby, Bradley James and Colin Morgan were all fine and succeeded in making the teenage shenanigans amusing without being irritating, even if none of them quite had the breadth to make you totally invest in their character in this first episode. Anthony Head and Richard Wilson carried their parts with conviction as did Eve Myles who was, I thought, better here than in Torchwood or The Unquiet Dead.

Whether the series will manage to create a cohesive world out of its santised fantasy setting and build some real depth into its characters and themes remains to be seen but I came away from the first episode considerably better disposed towards it than I expected to be.
 
 
 
parrot_knight: Torchwoodparrot_knight on September 21st, 2008 12:12 pm (UTC)
I think that you've got something in that this episode didn't require Eve Myles to be a standard-bearer for Welshness, which burdens her both in Doctor Who and Torchwood.

I was vituperative in my review, but this morning, on reflection, might not be giving the creators of this Europudding (with Americaberry sauce) the credit they deserve. Later episodes will reveal more of the overall scheme. After all, I wasn't all that impressed with Rose...
louisedennis: arthurianalouisedennis on September 21st, 2008 05:28 pm (UTC)
I'm not convinced the series has its eye any more firmly on the European/American market then any of these post NuWho series do. I do realise that its probably riffing on Smallville (which I don't watch) but its subject matter is distinctly UK/Welsh and it doesn't seem to be particularly trying to identify with the American teenage experience. The sets are certainly reminiscent of early Hollywood swashbucklers but those are considered charmingly anachronistic even in the States, aren't they?

It's hard to know, when a series is this much of a stylistic mish-mash whether that's deliberate or carelessness. The fact that the plot, although slight, was comprehensible, internally consistent and advanced the overall story arc is a count in its favour and suggests somebody somewhere is concentrating. At the moment I'm opting for believing they've picked a deliberate fairytale fantasy style and have deliberately divorced it from a recognisable locale Britain/Wales to help maintain the illusion rather than to make it more overseas friendly. However it wasn't so self-assured that I'm convinced it won't yet come crashing down.

parrot_knightparrot_knight on September 21st, 2008 05:34 pm (UTC)
I mention the 'Europudding' because it's been partly shot in France with a French crew, and because it's the first British drama series in some time to have been pre-sold to a US network by Shine TV (whose CEO lives in the same town as me, I've just discovered, though not for long...)