Director: Marco Van Belle
Cast: Kirk Barker, Stefan Butler, Nigel Cooke, David Sterne, Charlotte Brimble
Running Time: 103 minutes
Marco Van Belle makes his full-length directorial debut with ARTHUR & MERLIN, a fantasy that delivers more value than its cost of production.
The story follows Myrrdin (Stefan Butler) and Arthfael (Kirk Barker), two Celts who share the same line of destiny, to protect their homeland from the dark enchantment of an evil god.
The design sets up the world elegantly from the start. Production Designer Belle Mundi creates crude but structured landscapes, capturing a beautiful simplicity from a previous time. Louisa Thomas’ costume designs are also minimal-yet-effective; the lack of ‘over ornamentation’ results in a truly convincing style for the period.
Phil Wood’s cinematography takes full advantage of the locations and maintains a look that is more natural than fantastical, weaving it all together. The sweeping long shots show off landscape details to the point that it reminds how far low-budget filmmaking has come in the last decade.
There are no Knights of the Round, royal love triangle, or Holy Grail in this particular reiteration. Van Belle and script partner Kat Wood only borrow sparingly from established Arthurian lore, incorporating their own brand of myth into the story.
Though it deviates more from source myth than other efforts, ARTHUR & MERLIN succeeds in bringing a new spirit to the dynamic of its iconic characters. In no ways are Arthfael or Myrrdin revered by society in status or title. Warrior and wizard are presented as equally flawed, simply as they are, learning about each other through shared experience rather than promise of prophecy. As such, they learn equally from each other as well.
Which is what makes this version of the oft-retold tale more interesting than many previous reiterations. New talents Kirk Barker and Stefan Butler do an excellent job of carrying the film, portraying their characters with a sense of grounding rather than grandeur. The supporting cast surrounds their characters with enough gravitas to make their peril convincing – especially in David Sterne’s King Vortigern and Nigel Cooke’s protagonist, Aberthol.
As perhaps the ‘least seasoned’ of the newcomers, we wish Charlotte Brimble’s Olwen had more to do, but there’s enough to convince that her dramatic talent can bring more in future roles.
ARTHUR & MERLIN is a great showcase of talent, delivered through an enjoyable tale. I would definitely like to see more from the names involved in this production team; doing a period fantasy piece with a relatively small scale production and the result is satisfyingly better than the majority of Hollywood’s $100 million blockbusters. Bravo.
ARTHUR & MERLIN is set for digital release tomorrow (April 16) on the film’s website, http://www.arthurandmerlin.co.uk.