History Files



This new mini series on Channel 4 over the Easter of 1999 was yet another retelling of the Arthurian cycle, but this took a new angle. It told the story from Merlin's (Sam Neill) point of view. It even gave him a love interest to hook the less interested viewer - a sweetheart in the form of Nimue (Isabella Rossellini), who is lost and finally found again in old age, an appropriate sub-theme for a Celtic tale. In another take on the main legends, this series put Merlin in the middle of a battle between the new and the old religions: between Christianity on the one hand and the ebbing power of the pagan world on the other, represented by Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson) and the evil, bewitching Morgan le Fay (Helena Bonham Carter). Although Merlin (half-divine, half-human, and therefore destined to grow old and die) is born to fight for the old against the new, he ends up as a guardian of the hope and the power of the future - fighting against the forces of darkness in the last battle, which inevitably ends in the death of King Arthur and the casting of Excalibur back into the lake.

Merlin had gorgeous photography (on location in Wales and at Pinewood Studios) and some great effects. At times beautifully postmodern, it occasionally resembled a Dark Age Twin Peaks, with the Lady of the Lake's weird sister Mab lisping and croaking on behalf of the dark powers, which whiz around her like fireflies. Merlin as the central character appears to work as well as Arthur, even though the medieval bards who began to popularise the legends often had a better idea of what audiences like than modern scriptwriters - and they thought Arthur's love life was more interesting than Merlin's. Despite that, all fans of the myth could find something to please in Merlin and, certainly, this two-part drama was great fun. It's one of those stories that can always bear a retelling, and in which every retelling adds something new to the way it is seen. This was one such retelling, and its broadcast was preceded by a short behind-the-scenes programme. This happily revealed Merlin's final scene before anyone had a chance to look away.



Merlin Sam Neill   Mab/Lady of the Lake Miranda Richardson
Nimue Isabella Rossellini   Morgan Le Fey Helena Bonham Carter
Frik Martin Short   King Vortigern Rutger Hauer
King Constant John Gielgud   Mountain King James Earl Jones
Arthur Paul Curran   Lancelot Jeremy Sheffield
Guinevere Lena Heady   King Uther Mark Jax
Lord Ardente John McEnery   Duke of Cornwall Thomas Lockyer
Sir Boris Roger Ashton-Griffiths   Lady Igraine Rachel Colover
Lord Lot John Turner   Sir Hector Keith Baxter
Lord Leo Nicholas Clay   Young Galahad Justin Gurdler
Gawain Sebastian Roche   Mordred Jason Done
Ambrosia Billie Whitlaw   Father Abbott Timothy Bateson
Young Merlin Daniel Brocklebank   Young Nimue Agnieszka Koson
Elissa Emma Lewis   Lady Elaine Janine Eser
Soothsayer Peter Woodthorpe   Young Morgan Alice Hamilton
Sir Gilbert Robert Addie   Sir Egbert Nickolas Grace
First Architect Peter Benson   New Architect John Tordoff
Chief Physician Vernon Dobtcheff   Second Physician Peter Bayliss
Lady Friend Talula Sheppard


Teleplay by: David Stevens and
  Peter Barnes
Story by: Edward Khmara
Executive Producer: Robert Halmi
Producer: Dyson Lovell
Director: Steve Barron
Legend Advisor: Loren Boothby
Music by: Trevor Jones and the London
  Symphony Orchestra

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