Preview: Camelot 1×1

An even worse version of Arthurian legend than Merlin thanks to Chris Chibnall

In the US: Fridays, 10pm, Starz. Starts April 1
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 4 for second half of 2011

Ladies and gentlemen, Torchwood has a new home! It’s Starz in the US!

What do you mean you knew that already? Ah, I see the confusion. Yes Torchwood: Children of Earth is coming to Starz in July. But I’m talking about the heart of Torchwood: Chris Chibnall, the man who made seasons 1 and 2 of Torchwood what they were. That is, largely unbearable.

You see Chibbers is the showrunner and co-creator – with Michael Hirst of The Tudors – of Camelot, a Starz TV series about the legend of Arthur and Merlin that stars Joseph Fiennes as Merlin, some young bloke as Arthur and Eva Green (Casino Royale) as the evil Morgan La Fay.

And it’s every bit as good as that first season of Torchwood. In fact, in true Chibbers style, it’s so bad it’s painful. Here’s a trailer and there’s a longer one here – brace yourselves: these are the best bits they could find.

Plot
In the wake of King Uther’s sudden death, chaos threatens to engulf Britain. When the sorcerer Merlin has visions of a dark future, he installs the young and impetuous Arthur, Uther’s unknown son and heir, who has been raised from birth as a commoner. But Arthur’s cold and ambitious half sister Morgan will fight him to the bitter end, summoning unnatural forces to claim the crown in this epic battle for control. These are dark times indeed for the new king, with Guinevere being the only shining light in Arthur’s harsh world. Faced with profound moral decisions, and the challenge of uniting a kingdom broken by war and steeped in deception, Arthur will be tested beyond imagination. Forget everything you think you know…this is the story of Camelot that has never been told before.

Is it any good?
This is horrifyingly, laughably bad. And it’s not just Chibbers – almost everything about it is dreadful (apart from James Purefoy).

Let’s start with the plot. That’s actually okay. The bare basics are that Morgan (Eva Green), daughter of Uther Pendragon, returns home all witchy after 15 years of exile and kills off her daddy. For some reason she spares her step-mum (Claire Forlani) and since she’s the only child, assumes the throne – although she needs a bit of a hand/shag from some of the local warlords (apparently there are some of these, rather than Anglo-Saxon kingdoms) to consolidate her power.

But it turns out Merlin secretly hid away Forlani and Uther’s kiddiewink, Arthur, and now daddy’s dead, Merlin grabs Arthur and takes him to Camelot to try to prise power away from Morgan.

So far, so almost Arthurian, although we haven’t yet had any swords in stones.

The problem is that the scripting and production are terrible. Non-actor Arthur, it turns out, is a bit of a poon hound, and spends most of his time shagging – plenty of casual female nudity in this one – until Merlin the unremarkable (Joseph Fiennes) turns up, mumbles a bit and pulls a few pained expressions. Then he just gets led off to Camelot, has some dreadfully unconvincing sword fights and then has to pretend to be kingly to stare down Morgan.

All the while, everyone involved has to mouth some truly dire dialogue, the worst offender being one of Chris Chibnall’s famous “let’s do it by the numbers by stealing from any movie I can think of” scenes, in which Eva Green shags James Purefoy in order to get him to agree to support her, during the course of which they negotiate basically an entire treaty and Green’s supposed to be so good Purefoy will just agree to everything. As mighty powerful warlords used to shagging any women they want and killing any they don’t will do, I’m sure.

Then there’s the direction, which makes the BBC’s low budget Merlin look positively filmic. It’s also horrifically cliched and just sometimes mental. This, for example, is how Purefoy and Green are asked to have sex:

Camelot sex scene

Ah, yes, the classic “girl on top with a top but no bottoms, arching her back backwards like she’s been doing yoga for 20 years” position. That’s comfy and historically accurate.

Ah, yes again. Historical accuracy? But this is a ‘timeless’ story, which apparently means it’s something akin to a Renaissance fair, with people dressed in Norman armour talking about “the warlord, the Duke of Cornwall” while James Purefoy wanders around clad in a bearskin, in CGI ‘castles’ that look a bit Saxon maybe, maybe a bit Norman, but who cares?

It’s also cheap looking – this is Camelot:

Camelot

What are they wearing? Why are they in Kew Gardens? What are those windows for?

There’s not an actor (apart from guest-star Purefoy) who comes out of this well. Arthur is weak, hired purely because he’s a bit pretty. Fiennes has negligible presence and you’re never going to confuse him with Nicol Williamson. Green, still sporting that semi-South African accent she had in Casino Royale, alternates between frothing at the mouth and being a bit snooty.

So thanks to a combination of the trademark Chibnall dialogue that scars you, some exploitative female nudity (even the Lady of the Lake, if it is she, goes full frontal), terrible direction, its disregard for history that makes Merlin look like a textbook, its low budget, its bad acting and its lack of anything new at all to add to the story beyond unplanned laughter, I’d say steer well clear of this.