Monday, June 13, 2011

Honking Box Review: Camelot

The Tudors began life as an exciting retelling of the notorious story of King Henry VIII; by the time it ended, it had morphed into the one of clumsiest, sloppiest dramas in recent memory. So when its creators decided to turn their attentions to the legend of King Arthur – already being retold by BBC One – we wondered whether they’d take an unceremonious dump on that as well.

On the merits of its first episode, however, it seems Arthurian legend hasn’t been defaced too brutally. The Tudors should have been bound by concrete historical fact, so when writers played fast and loose with the details (y'know, such as England's most renowned monarch being Irish), the entire show became a laughing stock. Camelot, at least, is rooted in myth, allowing for a bit more artistic licence.

And it's an opportunity they've grabbed with both hands. Specifically, a pair of pervy hands making the universally-recognised ‘grope’ gesture. Camelot doesn’t even bother to tantalise with cleavage – it goes all-out with shameless nudity every second scene. Throw in a liberal splattering of gore, and the occasional airing of the C-word, and the tone is determined pretty quickly.

But in spite of the soft porn aspect feeling entirely gratuitous, the show feels solid enough in terms of its narrative and production values to stand up as perpendicular as the laps of any male teenage viewers. It’s grand in scale, but not overplayed; and the lack of reliance on the original legend allows the actors to make some interesting choices.

Joseph Fiennes’ Merlin is intriguing, quietly twisted amongst the out-and-out heroics of his counterparts. And Jamie Campbell Bower may resemble a homeless Anneka Rice, but is wholly believable as a daring young king thrown in at the deep end. Meanwhile, the Arthur/Gwen chemistry that the BBC version is entirely devoid of is here in spades, even if the rutting-on-the-beach scene was perhaps going in the complete opposite direction.

But then, let us not forget that Camelot is a Starz production, a channel quickly forging themselves a neat little niche as purveyors of blood 'n' boobies. Take it on that level, and it does exactly as it sets out to do. For now, Camelot has set itself up as a modestly slick but easily-digestible drama; whether it morphs into a spiral of frenzied, side-splitting parody remains to be seen. With any luck, it’ll hold its worth. But if not, at least we can enjoy the potential hilarity of Jonathan Rhys Meyers rocking up to play Lancelot in a New Jersey accented monotone.

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