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The Boy Merlin (1979)

Watching all these Arthurian Movies lately shook loose a memory of this Thames TV children’s programme, which I saw when it was first broadcast back in 1979 (I think it was on Monday afternoons, about 4.30: not exactly Prestige Drama.) So I looked it up on YouTube - where it’s available for free since it has ‘no commercial potential’ - and what do you know, it’s surprisingly good! Devised by Anne Carlton and written by veteran communist-turned-Wiccan (!) TV writer Stewart Farrar, The Boy Merlin  was expanded from a single episode of the anthology series Shadows . It has the twelve-year-old Merlin living with his foster parents, a smith named Dafydd (Donald Houston)and his wife Blodwen (Margaret John) , and honing his magic skills with the help of his foster-grandmother Myfanwy (Rachel Thomas) But as the illegitimate grandson of local ruler King Conaan of Caernarfon (Meredith Edwards) he’s soon embroiled in his grandfather’s dealings with tyrannical High King Vortigern (Neil McCarthy)
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King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

One of the reasons the Arthurian Legends appeal so much to writers and film makers is that there is no single original version. If there ever was, it was a tale told by some Romano-British storyteller, sitting by a fire in a damp hall, perhaps expounding on the great deeds of a local ruler or late Roman general, and spicing up the action with some motifs borrowed from old Celtic myths. In the centuries that followed, the story grew, and changed. Lots of legends about other heroes got tacked on to it. French and German poets got hold of it and added Camelot, the Grail, and Courtly Love: Malory borrowed from them all in his Morte D’Arthur . Later, everyone from Tennyson to TH White to Rick Wakeman to little me retold the stories, altering them to fit our own vision and reflect our own times. So you can do whatever you like with King Arthur: everyone else has. At least, that’s the theory. Now here's Guy Ritchie’s 2017 box office catastrophe King Arthur, Legend of the Sword to destru

Knights of the Round Table (1953)

This was probably the first King Arthur movie I ever saw. It’s the sort of thing that used to turn up on TV pretty regularly in the 1970s, and I think I have vague memories of watching but not really following it - though it’s so much of it’s time, and looks so like the illustrations in children’s history books or Look and Learn magazine that I may be misremembering. I recall it being very obviously shot in California, but in fact it was made in Ireland and England - Modred’s castle, where a climactic duel takes place, is at Hay Tor, a half hour walk from my house. The weather is unusually nice though - almost every outdoor scene takes place in blazing sunshine, under clear blue skies, so there’s none of the misty Celtic twilight that infuses later Arthurian films. This is a version of Arthur which has been stripped of most of its usual magical elements. The sword Excalibur is revealed at the beginning, embedded in an anvil and hidden behind some ivy in front of a back-projection of th

Perceval le Gallois

I don’t use a Windows computer, but if I did, I imagine that irritating anthropomorphic paper clip would be popping up about now to say, ‘It looks like you’re starting a lengthy occasional series of blog posts in which you try to watch every Arthurian film ever made.’ And I suppose I am, although I doubt I’ll actually be able to find all of them, and there’s no way I’m sitting through that Clive Owen one again.  It’s liable to take a while too, but here to be going on with is Episode 4, in which I take my very first look at what must be one of the most eccentric yet accurate versions of an Arthurian story ever committed to celluloid. The previous Arthurian movies I’ve written about ( Excalibur , Gawain and the Green Knight , and The Green Knight ) all share a similar aesthetic: filmed among the mountains, woods and waterfalls of Wales and Ireland, they draw much of their visual power from nature, landscape, and a certain wintry light reflecting from their heroes’ armour. Éric Rohmer

Gawain and the Green Knight (1973)

Inspired by the new David Lowery film , I went looking for the version of Gawain and the Green Knight which I remember enjoying on telly back when I was young and impressionable. And I found it on YouTube for free! This was good, because I’m not convinced it would be worth paying for. But it was interesting, and my word, what a cast -  Anthony Sharpe, Ronald Lacey, Pauline Letts, Robert Hardy, Geoffrey Bayldon, Murray Melvin - the cream of mid-tier 1970s British thespery, all slicing it thick and serving it raw. Nigel Green is on particularly fine form as the titular jolly green giant, despite being lumbered with a second rate panto costume and a beard-and-bouffant combo that would make a Bee Gee blanch. The opening scene, where he arrives at Camelot to deliver his challenge, feels very close in spirit to the King Arthur stories I encountered growing up. But the plot quickly veers off-piste. The great Rosemary Sutcliff is credited (mis-spelled) as Script Consultant, and perhaps we have

The Green Knight

I’ve been waiting a long time to see David Lowery’s The Green Knight. It’s been forty years since there was a serious attempt to put Arthurian legend on the big screen, and this one’s release has been delayed several times by the pandemic. Now it’s finally here (in cinemas, and streaming on Amazon Prime). And maybe it’s a case of expectations running too high, but I was a bit underwhelmed.  I’m not entirely sure why. The photography is beautiful, the costumes impressive, the score haunting, the acting strong. When it wasn’t being determinedly artsy-fartsy it reminded me of  Barry Lyndon  (there are some deliberate references, I think - a long tracking shot as Gawain rides away from Camelot along a raised moorland road, an encounter with robbers, the candle lit interiors of Sir Bertilak’s castle). When it  was  being determinedly artsy-fartsy it was more like the dreamlike grail quest sequences in Excalibur : Dev Patel’s Gawain stumbles around on a lot of Irish mountainsides in very mu

Kevin vs the Unicorns

I’ve been so busy trying to point people in the direction of Utterly Dark recently that I’ve forgotten to mention I have ANOTHER book out: Kevin vs the Unicorns . It’s my eighth book with co-writer/illustrator Sarah McIntyre and our fourth story about Kevin, the Roly Poly Flying Pony, and the various goofballs he encounters in the town of Bumbleford. Kevin vs the Unicorns sees Kevin and his friends Max and Daisy discovering the existence of a Magical Pony Club, consisting of snooty unicorns and their even snootier riders. Goaded into entering their steeplechase, Kevin looks set to be humiliated… But, as so often in Bumbleford, SHENANIGANS are afoot, in the form of a cunning attempt to steal the club’s valuable Periwinkle Cup. Can Kevin save the day? Well, he probably can, but the RPFP books are more about how the day is saved, and what stupid jokes we can cram in along the way. I think the stories have been getting funnier, from the quite gentle humour of The Legend of Kevin to the man