Tonight Camelot, the newest version of the age old Arthurian legend, premieres on Starz. The show’s website tells viewers: “Forget everything you think you know…this is the story of Camelot that has never been told before.”
Hmm, really? I’m skeptical. It looks like a few changes to the story have been made, but it is basically the same story we’ve always been told. Here are a few differences based on the information appearing online about the show and its characters.
Arthur as usual is the son to Igraine and Uther. Uther has recently died and Arthur will now be king with Merlin’s assistance. Typical.
However, while Morgan is usually Igraine’s daughter by Gorlois, in this version she is Arthur’s daughter. Still, she is Arthur’s half-sister. According to the show preview and the website, she wants the throne for herself and plans to use Arthur’s knight Leontes and Guinevere’s love against him. Morgan is typically Arthur’s adversary, although depictions of her have been softened in more modern novels like The Mists of Avalon that justify her behavior.
Leontes is apparently a character whose name is completely made up. I do not recall such a name anywhere in Arthurian legend; nor could I find it anywhere when I searched. For whatever reason, the show’s creators chose to give his character an unusual name, but he seems to be the standard Lancelot character.
In the show, Guinevere and Leontes are engaged but she feels attraction for Arthur. That relationship is a bit of a twist because usually Guinevere is married or at least betrothed to Arthur when she meets and falls in love with Lancelot. This time, it looks like Lancelot/Leontes may end up being cheated on.
From the other descriptions of the characters, nothing appears too unordinary from most versions of the legend.
Fans of the BBC/SyFy Merlin appear to be up in arms about the program; discussion boards online accuse the new show of stealing from Merlin. While Camelot may be trying to capitalize on some of Merlin’s popularity, it can’t be accused of plagiarism since the legends of King Arthur have been told again and again. Online are numerous complaints from viewers that the show is designed to be full of sex scenes and is obviously for adult audiences only, while Merlin could basically be family viewing. The program is obviously geared more toward the viewing audience that enjoyed The Tudors and more historical adult fare than Merlin’s more fantasy loving audience.
Will Camelot offer anything new in the way of interpretation to the Arthurian legend? It’s possible since it will be one of the longer treatments of the legend as a television series scheduled for ten episodes its first season, and of course, with the possibility of more seasons. It certainly doesn’t look like a musical despite its similar name to the Broadway classic.
We can only wait and see whether the King Arthur we know will emerge, or a new version of the legend will be told. I imagine we’ll see a little of both.
Visit Starz for more information. The series premieres tonight, April 1, 2011, at 10 p.m.
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com