With every retelling of the King Arthur legend comes the promise that this will be a version unlike any ever seen before. For Starz’s Camelot, the premium is placed on grittiness, a more earthy approach to magic and, thanks to the format of an hour-long weekly drama series, the ability to delve much deeper into the story.
While it doesn’t officially premiere until April 1, the network is offering a sneak preview of the pilot tonight at 10:56pm ET. In one efficient, entertaining hour, the setting, characters and aesthetic — all of which are complex, beguiling and beautiful to look at — are established and the stage is set for a rousing good time. There is plenty of sex and violence, but it’s not as gleefully trashy as Starz’s Spartacus, a promising signal that the network plans to take different approaches to its adults-only period fare.
Jamie Campbell Bower, who with his long blond locks and hipster-skinny frame would be right at home portraying a 1970s glam rocker, turns out to be a good choice to play an Arthur who doesn’t yet know his royal lineage. Also, if you picture him with short, dark hair he’s a dead ringer for Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who played Henry VIII in The Tudors (a show with which Camelot shares some of its creative team). When he was born, Arthur was spirited away by Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) and placed with a common family in the countryside, growing up a charming rogue with his foster brother Kay (Peter Mooney). But now that his exiled half sister Morgan (Eva Green) has returned and overtaken the throne after poisoning their father, Uther, Merlin reclaims the boy to take his rightful place in the kingdom.
However much you might know about the Arthur legend, there is plenty to enjoy in Camelot. Eva Green could be one of the TV season’s best villains, making her Morgan a formidable, deadly opponent whether she’s using her calculating mind, her dark magic skills or her shapely body. It’s a nice contrast to Bower’s innocence, which doesn’t go so far as to make him a pushover. Fiennes has the flashiest role with Merlin, and though the character seems a bit uneven in the pilot — the writers seem to want viewers to question whether he’s a hero or a villain — he seems to be firmly on the side of good. All the landmarks of the legend, including the Sword in the Stone and Arthur’s romance with Guinevere, are on the docket for this first season. Tonight’s sneak peek is a promising look at things to come.