January Review: Merlin

One thing that I would like to start this year on this dear old blog of mine is to give you some feedback on the things that I enjoy so that maybe you might share in the enjoyment with me.  This could be anything from literature to restaurants to film to art to anything else I am bursting at the seams to tell you about.

This month’s review is perhaps a rather obvious one for those who know me.  We are going to discuss one of my absolute favorite storytellings of all time:  BBC’s Merlin.  This is a five-season television program that aired from 2008 to 2012 and is now concluded.

Melrin blog highlight

Merlin is a new and interesting take on traditional Arthurian legend.  The story begins in Camelot when the great King Arthur is still prince and his paranoid father Uther is on the throne.  Uther outlawed all magic twenty years earlier – around the time of Arthur’s birth – and has since been working to purge the land of all magic.  Meanwhile, a young magician is travelling to Camelot where his mother hopes that he will be able to hide his magic better in a large city than he could in his small hometown.  This young warlock is the legendary wizard Merlin, although he too is still just another young man looking to start his life.  Through some unlikely circumstances, Merlin saves Arthur’s life and Uther assigns him the honor of becoming Arthur’s manservant.  From then on, whether they like it or not, the two are inseparable.  They go on various quests and adventures as Camelot blooms and they both strive to uncover their destiny.

In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young boy.  His name: Merlin.

A New Take on an Old Story: One of the things that I originally found intriguing about Merlin is the direction that the writers chose to go with it.  Most people I know have heard of King Arthur in some form or another, whether through historical narratives, bed-time stories, or Monty Python’s unforgettable adaption.  But the creators of Merlin decided to take this familiar story and start before it even began.  They include many elements of the traditional legends, but often times in unexpected or unconventional ways.  Characters like Guinevere, Morgana, and Mordred come from incredibly different backgrounds than you might expect, and many of the knights are included but as very different incarnations of themselves than the larger-than-life versions traditionally portray.

The entirety of the story is still set in Medieval times (although there is definitely some costume inconsistency with that thought process), but the story feels modern in the way it is told.  The characters are relatable and timeless in their portrayals and for that reason the show stays interesting and fresh even if many of the episodes catalog a similar plot formula.

Set and Visuals: Okay, so especially in season one, the graphics are… low-budget BBC.  However, excluding the graphics in the beginning (because they get a whole lot better), the visuals in this show are absolutely stunning.  Much of the palace footage was shot on site at a castle in France callled Pierrefonds and although it occasionally looks like CGI, that beautiful building is completely real.  Added to that are also scenes in intriguing forests and glassy lakes as well as older crumbling castles and caves.  The backdrop for the series sets it up already as a whimsical wonderful place.

Then you add in the costuming.  I remember the very first time I watched episode one of the first season, there was a moment where the doors opened to the great throne room and a woman walked in with her luxurious purple dress billowing behind her and I couldn’t help but grin at how pretty it was.  Morgana gets some really beautiful wardrobe choices, as do many of the visiting dignitaries that pass through Camelot.  Arthur also wears a fun array of different princely uniforms, but my favorite, and the one he wears most often, is is chainmail with the bold Camelot cape.  There are so many scenes where the knights’ capes are shown sweeping around and the effect is definitely impressive.  Merlin’s costume is pretty much the same thing every single episode.  He has his strappy boots, bunched up socks, brown pants, worn jacket, a blue or red shirt, and a blue or red scarf.  Despite the lack of change in his clothes, they become so iconic that by the end of the series you are a little bit in love with that outfit.

The music is absolutely phenomenal, especially as the show moves into the later seasons.  The entire thing really takes on a cinematic quality and the score is a huge cog in that mechanism to pull it all off.

And then you put all of that together and end up with some incredible scenes whether it be sword-fighting or magical creatures or even just riding horses.  It is such a vivid and artistic picture that it is easy to become accidentally immersed in the thrill of it all.

Character Development: If there is one reason that you should watch Merlin it is the character development.  Throughout the five seasons, Arthur and Merlin as well as almost all of the smaller supporting roles have such realistic and intentional character development that you really feel as if you get to watch them grow up.

Arthur starts out as the kind of arrogant prince who grew up spoiled and was never told he should change.  He makes his fun by picking on those less fortunate than him and showing off how important he is.  As the series progresses, we get to see his very big heart in action and watch as he becomes the noble and great king that we know from legend.

Morgana has one of the most dramatic character progressions of the series.  Katie McGrath, who plays the Lady Morgana, does an excellent job of making every twist and turn with her character absolutely human.  I can’t say too much because Morgana has quite a bit of spoilers in her character development, but I can say that of all the characters on the show, she could have very easily become cartoonish but she never was.  Throughout the entire story, Morgana is very much a human being, albeit one that experiences a whole lot of changes in her personality.

Merlin is the main character so it would make sense that we have the most insight into his character, but no matter how many times I continue to watch it I am still blown away by the change in Merlin as he grows up.  Colin Morgan is a phenomenal actor and he handles this role with absolute finesse, making the title role really deserve it.  Merlin is my favorite character on the show and a large part of the reason I am so enamored with the young wizard is watching him come into his own as a character.  At the beginning, he is young and untested.  He arrives in Camelot working incredibly hard (and not always succeeding) to control the urge to prove himself using magic.  As he discovers the severity of the repercussions if his magic were to ever be found out, he begins to struggle with his identity.  He feels that he has no purpose without his magic.  But, as he begins to find his destiny intertwining with Arthur’s, he finds purpose again.  Sure, it still has a lot to do with his magic, but watching him become comfortable and confident in his own skin and in Arthur’s kingdom is such a beautiful experience.  It is impossible not to root for the young warlock as he slowly but surely matures from a pasty, aggressive little punk to a wise and confident adviser and friend.  I wish I could give you every little detail of his coming of age, as it were, but that would bore you to death and you could easily experience it with your own eyeballs by watching the show.

The Downsides: My biggest pet peeve about Merlin is that everyone always leaves doors open.  They could spare themselves a whole lot of trouble if they simply learned that doors can opposite in the reverse direction that they came from.  Seriously, that is the thing I dislike the most about the entire series.  Obviously it is not one-hundred percent perfection because nothing is, but there is an undeniable sort of magic about it all.

If you are not so much into slightly cheesy, incredibly sassy, not-quite-historically-accurate period pieces with a whole lot of charm and character, than this might not be the show for you, but I would encourage you to give it a shot.  Merlin has something to offer for everyone and a timeless magic (beyond the turning-your-eyes-gold sort) that makes it all the more enticing.  Power through the first few episodes and before you know it you will be hooked.

Let me know in the comments what you think about me posting more content like this and if you have any ideas of things for me to review, I would love to hear them.

photo credit: Google Images

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