Marion Zimmer Bradley's
Jules Verne's Mysterious Island
Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire
Sword of Xanten
Legend of the Seeker
The Saxon hordes threaten the shores of Britain and the only hope of salvation lies with the High King Uthyr Pendragon. He, however, loves Ygraine, Duchess of Cornwall and is willing to destroy that hope to lie with her. Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, high priestess of the old religion in Avalon makes that possible in exchange for the services of Ygraine's daughter, Morgaine. Morgaine is raised a priestess of Avalon and tricked into giving Arthur, her half-brother, a child who will bring doom to them all.
The Arthurian legends are timeless and have withstood many retellings. In them all are the themes of brotherhood, bravery, magic and betrayal. In none of them are the themes of motherhood, sisterhood or feminine wiles. Not until Marion Zimmer Bradley's MISTS OF AVALON, an epic retelling of the story from the point of view of the women, and especially the woman most usually labelled as the villainess of the piece Morgaine Le Fey. In fact all of the women in the legends are usually portrayed in a bad light, betraying husbands and sleeping with brothers. MISTS OF AVALON weaves a story through the magic of the old religion to justify those wrongs and excuse those women.
This mini-series attempts, and fails, to bring that epic scale to the television screen, but it's not for want of a cast. Julianna Margulies is the focus of the story as Morgaine, but she does not appear until late in the episode. Hers is the voiceover that tries to bring some insight into the personal impacts of the grand events, but it is so often not required, merely explaining what we can already see. It is certainly no substitute for the dense detailing of character and motivation in the novel.
Angelica Huston has shown in other roles the strength and majesty required to be the perfect Viviane, High Priestess and arch-manipulator, but even she is unable to do much with the underwritten role. Equally, the usually dependable Joan Allen is completely wasted as Margause, Morgaine's scheming sister. The men fare even worse with Uthyr, Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin all either bland or ignored by the flat and uninvolving script.
There are some good battles and fighting scenes scattered throughout and some lovely background landscapes, but the characters that are truly the stuff of legend are sadly AWOL.Top
Peace reigns in Arthur's kingdom, but peace comes with its own price. There are still enemies, but they lie within rather than threaten from without. Arthur and his queen Guinevere are unable to produce an heir through Margause's meddling and even a night spent with Lancelot fails to do the trick. Morgaine leaves her and Arthur's son Mordred in Margause's care to visit Camelot and is tricked into exile in Wales. Margause and Mordred reveal Lancelot and Guinevere's infidelity in an attempt to seize power, but an invasion by the Saxons proves even more tumultuous.
The second half of the Arthurian legend is one of infidelity, betrayal and family dysfunction. It is soap opera territory with armour on and so proves to be the case here. The mysteries and magic of the old religion are left behind and the petty mischief that remains can't take its place, the narrative wandering about through a series of not very interesting relationships with minor characters. When Merlin dies it is built up to be a huge emotional moment, but we met him so little that it's it's hard to care. In fact it's hard to care about any of the characters in this family melodrama.
But the Arthur legend has one last trick up its sleeve; a final battle of such power that not even this can mess it up. As two armies clash, as father faces son, as friend fights with friend for one last time the innate power of the legend invests MISTS OF AVALON with with a quality finale that doesn't really deserve and which even the unnecessary coda cannot dilute.
The TV MISTS OF AVALON is a hard slog at times that it ought not to be. If you want a snappier telling of the tale then get hold of John Boorman's flawed but gorgeous EXCALIBUR. Or, better still, read the book.Top
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