Brit Picks: “Merlin”

Written by Sarah Townsend October 20, 2011

“Keep the magic secret.” – Merlin

In 2008 for the first time in nearly 4 years the BBC found themselves without a weekend family oriented program because “Doctor Who” was taking most of the year off aside from several infrequent specials.  The solution to this gap was “Merlin” which hit television screens in Britain in September 2008.


Created by Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, “Merlin” tells the story of the well known characters of Camelot just as they are growing into who they will become, late teens, early twenties.  Merlin, played by Colin Morgan (“Doctor Who”) first comes to Camelot to live with his new guardian, Gaius (Richard Wilson), the Royal Physician. Upon realizing that Merlin is a young warlock, Gaius – a man who has some magical experience of his own – informs Merlin of Camelot’s strong anti-magic laws imposed by King Uther (Anthony Head) after the death of his wife was caused by magic. Those caught in Camelot using magic are put to death, no questions asked.  Through a series of amusing if slightly silly events Merlin becomes Prince Arthur’s (Bradley James) personal servant and finds that it is his destiny to see Arthur become the greatest king Camelot has ever known, all while attempting to hide his magical abilities.  John Hurt (“Harry Potter”) narrates the voice of a semi-omniscient dragon who occasionally guides Merlin towards his destiny and at times serves as a figure of foreshadowing for the audience.


Prince Arthur

All of the characters from the Arthurian legend are here.  Merlin and Arthur are shown to be beginning what will be a great if challenging friendship.  Merlin is steadfastly loyal to Arthur and uses magic to protect him in a kingdom where he is not safe to do so.  He takes his role in Arthur’s destiny seriously with the hope that when Arthur is king, magic may be accepted. Arthur is a sarcastic young man struggling to cope with what it means to be a future ruler.  He acts with the betterment of Camelot in mind even if it against his father’s wishes. Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath) is Uther’s ward in the beginning of the series and her storyline is particularly interesting to watch if you are aware of the legend and what must inevitably happen to her. She also stands as a saddening comparison to Merlin as the audience must watch her make the same discoveries about her abilities, but without the support that Merlin receives. Guinevere (Angel Coulby) is Morgana’s personal servant and best friend whose relationship with Arthur becomes complicated.  As the series continues the Lady of the Lake, Mordred, and  knights such as Gawain, Percival and Lancelot all make various appearances.


As a family show the first series consists of many entertaining but quite light episodes.  While I can see children loving these stories and I do understand why they are in the series, as an older viewer they are fun but also a little tedious to watch.  It seems in the following series that the writers have realized this however and as their audience has grown up so has the storyline.  “Merlin” excels when it depicts the legends and this is thrilling to watch, particularly if you know anything about them.  The story is told in a way that rewards those who know what will happen later but does not punish those who have started watching simply for fun.

From left to right: Guinevere, Gaius, Morgana, Merlin, Arthur, Uther


“Merlin” houses and guests stars many famous and well established British actors but refreshingly, most of the main younger characters were cast when they were fairly unknown – none of these actors can state the same now.  The relationships and complexities of growing up burdened in various ways – something that all young people must experience in some way – make the stories and characters truly relatable.


Filmed in various castles in Wales and France, “Merlin” is a visual treat.  Medieval England has been brought to life through costume, music and setting – muck on the street and vegetable covered stocks included.


Merlin enjoys some fast food.

“Merlin” improves each series and I am quite enjoying the darker, more mature turn that it’s been taking this series.  Series 4 is currently playing in the UK and should be playing on Space in Canada very soon if not already.  Series 1 and 2 are currently available on DVD in Canada with Series 3 coming in early 2012.


My Rating: 7.5/10

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About Sarah Townsend

Sarah Townsend

Sarah Townsend: Senior Television Editor of We Eat Films and writer of the Brit Picks column. A fourth year English and History student at UWO, future plans include travelling with the Doctor in his TARDIS whenever he finds me. I'm still waiting...

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