11 October 2000 | Bob-45
Logical, but not awe inspiring
MERLIN finally makes some sense of the Arthurian Legend. Certainly the liberties taken here answer many of the questions wrought by other tellings of the tale (EXCALIBUR, in particular). Effects, cinematography and sound are outstanding for a TV production. However, key casting weaknesses seriously undercut the effectiveness of the tale. Sam Neil is simply dull as Merlin. It is hard to believe this is the same actor who did such a memorable job in THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Equally weak (in a small but pivotal role) is Jeffrey Sheffield as Lancelot. Where is the charm and inspiring goodness of other Lancelots? Those qualities are necessary to lend tragedy to the events of Camelot.
There ARE indeed outstanding performances on display. Miranda Richardson is simply fantastic in a dual role (Queen Mab, The Lady of the Lake). Her Mab suffers less from evil than arrested adolescence. Her powers allow her to DO evil rather than BE evil. On the other hand, the actor that plays the adult Modred is deliciously evil. Even when his ethical arguements are reasoned, his evil intent slides through, enabling us to root for Arthur. Billie Whitelaw as Auntie Ambrosia is touching and powerful. Best, perhaps of all is Martin Short, as Frick. His wonderful scenes with the equally capable Helen Bonham Carter (as Morgan Le Fay) are the best of the film. Despite the logical development of the story, I do have one small quibble. From the time of the birth of Merlin to the time of the birth of Arthur is at least 21 years. From the time of the Birth of Arthur to the time of the birth of Modred is at least 17 years. Although Modred is reputed to grow astonishingly quickly, he must have been at least 16 years to challenge Arthur. So Merlin and Nimue must have been at least 54 by the time of the battle between Arthur and Modred. Nevertheless, neither Merlin nor his love Nimue have aged since Neil and Isabella Rosselini took over the parts. Hmmm...