Sunday, December 9, 2012

Le Morte d'Arthur and More

December is shaping up to be quite the busy month for period dramas this year with Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey both being promoted as the jewels in the crown of the Christmas Day schedules on BBC1 and ITV1 in the UK respectively. The former will feature an abandoned baby on the steps on Nonnatus House, Miranda Hart's hapless Chummy organising a Nativity play and an old vagrant lady touching the lives of the nuns and nurses while the later will, unlike last year's festive special, not be set at Christmas but during a Crawley family holiday in the Scottish Highlands. With the servants back in Downton at a loose end it seems Mrs Patmore indulges in a spot of romance and, judging by the trailer, Anna may have had to do a lot of letting out of Lady Mary's dresses since we've seen her last........ Also, coming to a climax this Christmas after five autumns on the Beeb is the hugely popular children's magical adventure series Merlin, which is not by any means ending on a whimper but, to this blogger's mind, the best series yet. Rather ropey and unsophisticated entertainment when it first aired in 2008, the average episode of Merlin is now much more exciting and emotionally engaging than the likes of Sinbad and Doctor Who. Personal recent highlights have included a genuinely creepy installment featuring the vengeful spectre of the old king returning from beyond the veil to punish his son for bad life choices and Merlin, still hiding his true self from the oblivious king, dressing up in drag in order to perform a spell in plain sight.

It is, all told, probably the right decision to quit while the going is good because just like any long-running series it has a formula and one would hate for the formula to become completely exhausted before time is called in Camelot. How many more times can Merlin be summoned to a cave by a mysterious old woman to be told that it is his destiny to protect Arthur from bitter sister Morgana only for the supposed evil genius Morgana's plans to fizzle out once again sending her and her big hair off in a huff? And, even accepting that this version of the Arthurian legend re-invents the once and future king as a dumb blonde, surely even he would have cottoned on by now that his servant Merlin is doing more for him on a weekly basis than simply washing his drawers. The real masterstroke of Merlin is Colin Morgan's performance as the eponymous sorcerer, at times hilarious and at times heartbreakingly sad, which suggests a homoerotic subtext which has sparked many a colourful conversation in student houses and internet forums over the years but is never too knowing for its own good. With visions of Arthur's death haunting Merlin at night and the faithful dragon with the voice of John Hurt ailing, the sense of doom has been nicely foreshadowed and the two-part finale should be one to watch. However Merlin ends up when the credits rolls on the final episode, Morgan (pictured above) has undoubtedly a bright future ahead of him.

Merlin has not only helped to launch the careers of Morgan and other series regulars Bradley James and Katie McGrath but also Holliday Grainger who made an early guest appearance in the first series and is now going from strength to strength career-wise playing Lucrezia Borgia in HBO's The Borgias and giving a memorably touching performance as Estella in the latest big-screen Great Expectations, more than holding her own opposite the reliably charismatic Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. The film itself is a not-entirely-successful mixed bag but does have its charms and screenwriter David Nicholls knows what he is doing and it is a better version than the bleak BBC miniseries we saw last Christmas. Its potential as the period drama film of the season has been unceremoniously eroded by ecstatic early reviews for the long-awaited movie adaptation of the mega-musical Les Miserables which frustratingly does not open this side of the pond until January 11th 2012. Other potential period delights to be enjoyed in the coming weeks include the first film in the The Hobbit trilogy, Loving Miss Hatto, a BBC1 TV film written by Victoria Wood about a strange case of artistic fraud involving an elderly classical pianist, the launch of Ripper Street, the dark thriller about life in London in the time of Jack the Ripper also on BBC1, an ITV adaptation of a Frances Hodgson Burnett story called The Making of a Lady starring Joanna Lumley and, last but not least, the second annual period drama quiz to be published on this blog presently. Amn't I good?

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