‘In a land of myth, and a time of magic…’
The tales of King Arthur’s adventures have been well-known and loved for centuries. Whether you’ve grown up hearing the stories, or just heard the name in passing, chances are you’re aware of the legends of the great King’s quest for the Holy Grail, or at the very least his Round Table. There’s almost always a mention of his faithful wizard, Merlin, too – a wizened old man who served the King’s father and guides him through the beginning of his reign.
Yeah, well, forget all that stuff, because at least for a little while, we’re not talking about King Arthur. This review is about the BBC’s Merlin, and that means we need to start talking about Prince Arthur. Except just for now we’re not going to bother with him, either, because come on – ignoring the title character to talk about his friend would just be rude. Especially since said friend is a clotpole.
So, the series follows Merlin (Colin Morgan) as he arrives in Camelot just in time to see an execution carried out – for the crime of using magic. This is not the most welcoming thing to walk in on at the best of times, but since Merlin himself has more than just an enchanting personality it’s enough to make you wonder why he didn’t just turn around and return to his own village. As his mother wishes, he instead moves in with Gaius (Richard Wilson), who’s Court Physician and unofficial advisor to the tyrannical King Uther (Anthony Stewart Head).
Of course, since Merlin’s in Camelot predominantly to keep him out of trouble, pretty much the first thing he does on arrival is pick a fight with Uther’s son – Prince Arthur (Bradley James). Arthur is, in Merlin’s initial opinion, a prat. Merlin ends up in the stocks, where he meets the lovely Guinevere (Angel Coulby) – “…but most people call me Gwen”. She’s maidservant to the Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath), and that little lot – plus a handful of Arthur’s knights – rounds out our main cast.
Over four series, with a fifth to come (which starts airing on the 6th of October in the UK) we follow these young legends on their journey towards becoming the heroic – or villainous – characters we know from the stories. Their friendships are tested, their loyalties twisted, and all the while our protagonist is forced to balance two conflicting goals – it is his destiny to protect Arthur so that he can unite the land of Albion… but he daren’t reveal his secret.
Monster-of-the-week episodes tie in neatly to complex overarching plots throughout Merlin’s run so far, with the upcoming series looking set to continue with similarly high standards. This show may be aimed at families, but it’s got layers in it – especially written into the surprisingly deep, well-crafted characters – that any adult can appreciate. Especially in later series, the show does shift towards the darker end of the spectrum, and extremely thought-provoking issues do arise, but brilliant scripts and fantastic performances ensure that there’s plenty of humour in there to balance things out. No matter how hard you might cry at certain scenes in series four, Merlin is unlikely to make you want to hide under your duvet with a tub of ice cream and never come out again (unless you were already so inclined).
Important as the narrative is to what makes the show such a wonder – and cleverly-implemented though the various elements of the famous stories are – it’s just one part of what makes this such a fantastic show. If, like me, you get a little bit geekily excited about great cinematography, subtle yet brilliant lighting, and gorgeous costumes, you’ll enjoy this show. If you’re intrigued by amazing CGI or stunning settings, you’ll want to check it out. Powerless to resist compelling dramatic portrayals? This show is for you. Even if the only things you care about in all the world are unicorns and dragons… you know what, I could go on for ages listing all the things I, as an adult, like about this show. But we’d be here all day, and I have a word count to stick to.
Watch Merlin yourself and find out what you like about it. Let us know what you like about it, because I’m sure I’ve forgotten a whole load of things. Even if it doesn’t become your favourite show ever in the world ever, I’m pretty sure you’ll come to consider the hours you spent watching it as time well spent. And there aren’t many things I could recommend that firmly to everyone in such a diverse group as you Wanderers. So what are you waiting for, grown-ups? Go and watch!
I’d give this show a 4.5 out of 5.
Eleanor Musgrove (can’t wait ’til you find out what Uther keeps in his cellar…)