Legends in Films

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The King's Wizard
The movie (or rather: mini series) begins with the ruthless Vortigern usurping the throne from corrupt King Constant (a short appearance of John Gielgud!), only to begin another decadent rule over England.

Then Queen Mab gets her introduction. She's a sorceress lamenting the loss of "the old ways" and the spread of Christianity, symbolized by Constant's son Uther and his encroaching army. although Mab asked her sister's help, the Lady of the Lake refuses and Mab creates a half-human child through magical means. Merlin gets raised by sweet "auntie A" who teaches him human traits like love and compassion. Then the day comes that Merlin uses magic, without even nowing how, while he tries to rescue Nimue from quicksand. He and Nimue fall in love instantly.
Mab reveals Merlin's true nature and Merlin gets trained to be Mab's weapon against Christianity by her sneering gnome Frik, but ultimately rejects her malevolence.

Merlin abandons sorcery in favor of becoming one with nature until Mab lures him into conflict with the love of his life, Nimue. Merlin serves as Vortigern's advisor until the arrival of Uther's army and a betrayal by Vortigern and Mab, who have become partners in evil. Merlin aids Uther's conquest against Vortigern, hands him Excalibur and gets him on the throne.
Alas, it soon becomes apparent that Uther is every bit as flawed as his father and predecessor. He wages a senseless, bloody war to win the affections of a lord's wife, with whom Uther conceives his son.Incensed at the lack of humanity all around him, Merlin imprisons the mystical sword Excalibur in stone with the help of a living mountain and goes into exile with the infant Arthur, hoping to raise the boy with the compassion and dream of peace that other humans seem incapable of.Nimue in trouble Further complications arise when Mab and Frik take an interest in Arthur's half-sister, Morgan Le Fey, with whom they deceive Arthur into a seduction that produces the bastard Mordred, who would ultimately be the undoing of Arthur and Camelot.

"Merlin" has al the aspects a good movie about Merlin should have:

  • the fatherless child (as he was created by Mab and born from a human mother);
  • the castle that could not be build because of the two dragons sleeping in the grounds below;
  • the Lady of the Lake who is his couselor during his life and gives him Excalibur;
  • Nimue, who lets Mab lock her in a cave hoping Merlin would stay with her;
  • The magic and the old ways.
It's hard to compare this movie to the real legend, because the stories about Merlin and Arthur are plenty - it's hard to pinpoint the 'real' legend, if there even is one.
So I just won't do that, I'll just say: great movie, but the book series is better!

The Actors and their Alter Egos
Sam Neill is Merlin
Sam Neill's Merlin is the Strong and Silent Type, not unlike the actor himself. He manages to create an atmosphere which clearly shows that Merlin believes himself first. He does not believe in a future for "the old ways" and he certainly does not believe in the Christian god. He does believe in magic and love though, and that makes this movie whole. Merlin's love for Nimue is constantly appearing in the film as well as Merlin's struggle to enjoy this love. Over and over again his King calls upon him - Vortigern, Uther as well as Arthur. But it has an happy ending and at last Nimue en Merlin can live happily ever after - as it should be in a fairy tale.

Isabelle Rosselini is Nimue
Isabella Rosselini shows us a cunning and outspoken Nimue. She and Merlin meet in the woods as Nimue and her party are lost. Merlin shows them the way and warns them to stay on the path - which of course Nimue does not do. She gets into quick sand and calls out for help. Merlin to the rescue! Then it's the first time Merlin uses magic: without knowing how he lets a stick grow so it gets long enough to reach and help Nimue.
The love of Nimue and Merlin stays with them all their lives, although they get not much time to enjoy one another.

Helena Bonham Carter is Morgan le Fey
The Morgan le Fey, presented to us by Helena Bonham Carter, is a shy girl - at least in the beginning. She's not pretty but has a keen mind although she speaks with a disorder - not a combination very wanted in those days I presume. Morgan has the sight and possibilities for magic and Mab sorts her out as soon as Merlin leaves her: now she needs a new hero for her battle. Frik gets send out to enchant her and he manages very well. Morgan agrees to seducing Arthur and mothers Mordred - who turns out to be a spoiled little brad. For Morgan this fairy tale does not have a happy ending: she dies..

Miranda Richardson is Queen Mab
Creating a Fairy Queen in despair cannot be an easy task. However, Miranda Richardson does an excellent job. Her speaking is more like hissing, and the weaker she gets, the more valiant she becomes.
She is determined to give "the old ways" a new life and she has every reason to do so. Gods and goddesses only live as long as people believe in them. Queen Mab will not give up! Unfortunately Merlin puts her aside with only one line: "We will simply forget all about you."

Martin Short is Frik
To me, Martin Short was the greatest surprise of this movie. When Frik first appears, he just seems to be an ugly gnome. Later he transforms himself to the handsome man who is happy with Morgan le Fey. As the Gnome he is adorable, crowling for Mab as long as she is around, cursing her as soon as she is out of sight.
Unfortunately for Frik, Mab never is really out of sight.. or is she? Whole the time Frik is loyal to Mab, even if she does not deserve it. In the end she betrays him: he is to wander the world without any possibility of magic. Frik is a sad character and then again he is joyfull at the same time.

Rutger Hauer is Vortigern
To me, being Dutch, the appearance of Rutger in this film, brings back old memories. When I was still a little girl, Rutger played the title role in a Dutch TV-series "Floris" - a young knight fighting against the Burgundy in the Netherlands of the Middle Ages.
Now, he presents to us the atheist Vortigern, who believes in nothing but himself but is still keen to accept Merlin to his court. Vortigern is not a fool and knows when to listen and when to cut a throat. In Merlin's case, he understands very well that killing Merlin will not lead to his goal: building that castle on the mountain. He knows that listening to what Merlin has to say, is important. Unfortunately he does not know when to listen to Mab and when to use his own judgement, so... bye bye Vortigern.

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