Arthur & Merlin: Knights Of Camelot

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Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Arthur & Merlin: Knights Of Camelot
"Alderson's film acquits itself better than some entries in the genre by dint of the fact that it has an idea of its own." | Photo: Signature Entertainment

"Peace is better than ever war," warned Thomas Mallory - but sometimes the latter is necessary to achieve the former, no matter how ill-equipped one may be.

Like Richard Lester's Robin And Marian, Giles Alderson's latest film takes a legendary British hero and imagines him in later life, returning from the Crusades to find much of his work now undone. Unlike that film, it sheers away romantic sentiment and any expectation of a comfortable retirement. This is Arthurian legend from the perspective of the men putting their lives on the line for the sake of their king's dreams, and though it packs in a fair few clich├ęs, it maintains that grittiness throughout.

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The year is 463AD. Arthur (Richard Short) is, in fact, still crusading as the film opens - or at least enjoying the spoils of those activities, drinking heavily and picking fights for fun. During his five year absence his son Mordred has risen to power in Camelot, but cares little for his legacy. Instead, the bitter youth is cleaning out or imprisoning those who oppose him, including Guinevere (Stella Stocker), colluding with a witch and plotting a marriage that will legitimise his claim to the throne. If Arthur doesn't act fast, he could lose everything.

Following the king's return to his native isle and using flashbacks to establish its take on past events, the film sees Arthur, who has quite enjoyed his escape from responsibility, wrestling with the question of whether or not he is really the right man for the job. Mordred's witch seems to be sapping his will, not least by picking off members of his band, for whom the woods are a dangerous place. Alderson shot the whole film using only natural light (with vast numbers of candles to make the indoor scenes possible) and doesn't rely on tricks like waiting for the long light, instead letting rain and mud and the lowering skies set the scene. In this landscape, it's easy to understand the king's despair, but there are other interests at work here. Richard Brake (who played the Night King in Game Of Thrones before being replaced by Vladimir Furdik) plays Merlin, who has not lost his faith in Arthur's destiny and challenges the man to live up to the myth.

The biggest problem the film has, besides not knowing how to showcase the talents of its leading man, is that whilst Arthur is wrestling with his demons and taking on old foes, Mordred doesn't really have much to do. As a result, we see the same foot-stomping displays of bravado and threats of rape play out again and again in nearly identical scenes. With the exception of some last minute scheming, the female characters get little to do, and we don't get nearly enough sense of who most of the male characters are as individuals, beyond their choice of sides. Even Mordred is pretty two dimensional, which is a shame, because he's potentially one of the most interesting (and certainly one of the least explored) characters in the myth.

Alderson's film acquits itself better than some entries in the genre by dint of the fact that it has an idea of its own and doesn't just go through the motions, telling us a tale we all know already. Nevertheless, it feels padded and overlong, with an awful lot of running about that doesn't achieve or communicate much. Despite it attempts to engage a sense of enchantment and mystery, it is successful only in brief bursts, and viewers cannot live on grit alone.

Reviewed on: 09 Jul 2020
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Arthur & Merlin: Knights Of Camelot packshot
A much older King Arthur returns home after fighting the Roman Empire. His illegitimate son has corrupted the throne of Camelot. Now King Arthur must reunite with the wizard Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table and fight to get back his crown.

Director: Giles Alderson

Writer: Giles Alderson, Simon Cotton

Starring: Richard Brake, Richard Short, Stella Stocker, Joe Egan, Ronan Summers, Olivia Bernstone

Year: 2020

Runtime: 15 minutes

Country: UK

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