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Tense: Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower, left) and Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) have a difficult student-teacher relationship in Camelot. Stories by EliZABETH TAi

I

T was a mild winter’s day in November last year when we visited Camelot’s great hall. The imposing, two-storey building was a crumbling ruin of arches and stairs, a relic of the Roman age. Dried-out bush and weeds stuck out from cracked floor tiles, and a dim light gave the place a ghostly, ethereal feel. “Silence, please!” came a voice from the upper storey. As one, we journalists huddled before a camera at the edge of the hall. Joseph Fiennes, in medieval garb, walked into the camera frame to approach a regal-looking Claire Forlani in what appeared to be a room in a castle. The director made numerous takes, shooting the scene from different angles before taking a break. The cast was wrapping up the last few episodes of Camelot, a new, 10-episode series about the life of King Arthur. The Irish-Canadianmade series will air all over the world, including the American channel Starz, and Astro’s AXN Beyond. The great hall of Camelot is actually an impressive set located at Ardmore Studios, Dublin, Ireland – the same place where they filmed The Tudors, a series about the life of King Henry VII starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers. It is a multi-level and multi-functional set, with additional rooms in the second storey that serve as interiors of various castles. The Pendragon hall is located in the neighbouring studio, its dungeon tucked under a tent beside it. Outside the studio, two men,

Camelot is set to rise from the murky mists of legend again in a new, big-budgeted television series. dressed in medievalish costumes, played what looked like a game of ancient cricket on a field. Just a few blocks away, was the exterior of a castle, complete with a well, imposing walls and a gate. The actual castle was built a few miles away from Ardmore with a gorgeous view of Ireland’s green-covered hills. Money has clearly been poured into the project. According to Britain’s The Times, Camelot is said to be an even bigger production than The Tudors, which cost €20mil (RM85mil) in Ireland in 2009. “The budget of one of Camelot’s episodes is more than I normally work on in small independent films that get years to realise,” said Fiennes, who plays Merlin, in an interview the day before the set visit. “Camelot is like 10 small films,” he said.

Remaking Camelot There have been countless film adaptations about King Arthur’s tale over the decades. One wonders if there’s a new way of telling such a familiar tale. But good storytelling lasts for centuries, said Fiennes, and that’s a quality King Arthur’s tale has. “It deals with love, deceit, jealousy, deception, human condition, confrontation, family disputes, international disputes – and these don’t really change,” said Fiennes. Camelot starts at the very begin-

ning, before the knights, and before Arthur was even King. It’s the Dark Ages, and King Uther Pendragon (Sebastian Koch) rules a Britain that is often at war. His daughter Morgan (Eva Green), whom he banished to a nunnery 15 years ago, unexpectedly appears, demanding his father’s forgiveness. Uther refuses. And that very night, he is dead of poison. Merlin, the king’s wizard, arrives too late to save him, but gets a royal order from Uther that he recognise his son Arthur (Jamie Campbell Bower), whom he had secretly given to his loyal knight Sir Ector (Sean Pertwee) for protection 22 years ago. Merlin, in haste, goes to Arthur and tells the shocked young man that he must now take the throne. “This is Camelot being built up from the ground up,” said Canadian actor Peter Mooney, who plays Arthur’s foster brother Kay. Camelot, said Fiennes, is also a “dark retelling”. It will be bloodier, grittier, and well, sexier. “It wasn’t all Toyota Prius’ and the Green Party back then,” said Jamie Campbell Bower. “People were having limbs chopped off, being burnt at the stake and hung, drawn and quartered. We have to stay true to the story if you’re ever to recreate it,” he said. And although it is steeped in realism, the Arthurian tale’s magical qualities, such as the Lady of the Lake and Excalibur, will still be there. But Camelot is going to tell

the story in a unique way. “We get to understand the truth of that legend, or how that legend was born, and maybe it wasn’t all it seems,” said Fiennes. And while people may know where the story is headed, it will go down unexpected paths. “It has an interesting duality to it,” said Mooney. “In one way, it’s very loyal in terms of A and B, but in the middle we have absolute freedom to go anywhere.”

Playing the king Bower hopped into the room in Four Seasons Hotel Dublin on crutches, a foot in a cast. He had “a little stumble and a little fumble” on the set and broke his ankle clean in half, he explained. But nevertheless, the 23-year-old London lad who appeared as Caius in Twilight: New Moon and Gellert Grindelwald in Harry Potter And The Death Hallows was in good spirits. Sporting rings on his fingers, and wearing a black-and-white ensemble of trendy T-shirt and jeans, Bower looked more like a frontman of a rock band (actually, he used to be the lead singer of a band called The Darling Buds) than the legendary king who united Britain in the Middle Ages and assembled a troop of noble knights. This is Bower’s first lead role – one that was played by luminaries such as Richard Harris (1967 movie Camelot), and Sean Connery (First Knight, 1995) before, so he is understandably nervous. Still, Bower believes that he should not study the Arthurs of films before too much. “What you should try and do as an actor is bring personal experi-


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