Merlin (Ep 1)

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‘Merlin‘ is a 13-part series produced for BBC One by Shine Limited. It focuses on the teenage years of the wizard Merlin from Arthurian legend. The series was conceived by Julian Murphy and Johnny Caps; the creative minds behind Sky One show Hex.

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  • Colin Morgan as Merlin
  • Bradley James as Prince Arthur
  • Richard Wilson as Gaius
  • Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon
  • Angel Coulby as Guinevere (Gwen)
  • Katie McGrath as Morgana
  • John Hurt as The Great Dragon

Brief Plot Summary: The Dragon’s Call – A young Merlin comes to Camelot, ruled by King Uther, who has banned the use of magic. Merlin sees a young man executed for performing magic, which causes the man’s mother to swear vengeance. Merlin goes to work for the surgeon Gaius and makes friends with Guinevere, the maidservant to Morgana, the king’s ward. He also makes enemies with the king’s teenage son, Arthur, who is heir to the throne. Merlin meets up with a dragon imprisoned in the dungeons and, using his magic covertly, defeats the vengeful mother who disguises herself as a songstress and uses an enchanted song to send the kingdom to sleep so that she can kill Arthur. Merlin saves his life, and is awarded with being made Arthur’s manservant.

Oh Dear! As someone who has been fascinated with the Arthurian legend since I was a teenager, I was looking forward to this. It promised to be an interesting take on the legend, looking at Merlin’s younger, formative years and I had hoped it would be engrossing, or at least entertaining. What a mess it turned out to be.

Firstly, the problem of the mix of time lines grates. In Arthurian Legend the following is pretty much set in stone:

  1. 1. Merlin is in middle age, if not old age, when he meets Uther.
  2. 2. Morgana is not some ward, but Arthur’s rather vengeful half-sister.
  3. 3. Uther uses an enchantment to make himself look like Morgana’s father so he can lie with her mother, Ygraine, and from the union Arthur is born (hence why Morgana is so vengeful). Uther is killed before Arthur is barely old enough to walk.
  4. 4. When Arthur comes of age he, with the aid and assistance of Merlin, takes his rightful place as High King, Pendragon, and unites the kingdom. When the kingdom is united, Arthur builds Camelot.
  5. 5. Guinevere is not the maidservant of Morgana, nor was she the daughter of a blacksmith. She was the daughter of King Leo DeGrance, one of Arthur’s closest allies and strongest supporters. Nor was she black (I will come back to this).

Yet, this new series places a teenage Merlin in Camelot, built by Uther who has a teenage son called Arthur. He also has a ward called Morgana with a maidservant called Guinevere. It is a shambolic mess and a complete waste of what is a beautiful and rich tapestry of background.

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“Shh! Keep the glaring inconsistencies a secret!”

Even if the names had been changed, and this was just a king and a prince, the ward, her maid and a castle, it still wouldn’t sit well. The performances from the mostly young cast is shockingly bad. The old stalwarts of John Hurt, Anthony Head and Richard Wilson are more than capable of taking terrible material and giving it much needed gravitas but gravitas is pointless without substance and this episode simply hasn’t got any.

I must take issue with the decision to cast a black actress in the role of Guinevere. I have no problems with an international or multi-ethnic cast. However the truth is that there were no black people in the dark ages in Britain and if there were they more than likely have been considered devils and burned at the stake. Shameful? Of course but undeniable and the BBC, whilst laudable, have really made a bad situation worse here. Sorry Beeb, but this is one situation where Political Correctness simply isn’t correct.

Add to this the curious decision to use modern language to the point where Merlin calls Arthur a “prat”, and Guinever is simply called “Gwen”, and you have a waste that, other than the three old warhorses of Hurt, Head and Wilson, has nothing remotely going for it.

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Episode 4: The Poisoned Chalice airs on BBC One on the 11th October at 19:05 in Scotland and the 12th October at 15:25 in the rest of the UK.

  • Troy

    I agree entirely with the writer.
    The use of political correctness to portray a modern Britain as a multi cultural society may well be desirable, but it has no place in a historical portrayal of ancient Britain or, for that matter, the middle ages.
    I would love to sit in on the “round the table” meetings of the decision makers of these programs.
    I can imagine a collection of nerds and lefties all making decisions, on how to make a money-spinning program and still placate a North American audience.

    Robin Hood is a prime example, when they turned Friar Tuck into a black man.
    Political correctness may have its uses but what about “Historical correctness”
    Is the purpose of this ridiculous cast selection designed to fool the children of today into believing that our islands, in the years before the fifties, right back to ancient times was populated by Whites, Asians, and Negroes?
    They may well use the time worn excuse that the stories they have written is fiction and only based on an original story, but the fact remains that this is an insidious use of, cold war type, brain washing techniques.

    For goodness sake, stop trying to force feed us with your vision of a future Briton and let market forces take its course. You are creating an undercurrent of great resentment.
    It may take a while but we will get there eventually, one way or the other.