For quite some time, I’ve identified Lucius Artorius Castus as a possible inspiration for a historical Arthur. Consequently, the 2004 movie starring Clive Owen, King Arthur, is the rendition of my dreams. I have a tendency to view it in terms of the movie Tombstone and the life of Wyatt Earp. It’s not perfect, but probably tells the best version of that tale.
I have no patience for fantasy. I have no patience for the Bernard Cornwell books. I have even less with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. I see Arthur as either a post-Roman or late Roman – Roman, in every sense of the word. He was probably a cavalry officer of ducal and consular rank.
Because of my lack of tolerance for fantasy and my intense dislike of the sword, wizard, dragon, and balderdash genera, the moment I saw the previews for the Starz series, Camelot, I decided I would not watch it. I like my Arthur as a Roman, a competent Roman knight, and absolutely no fantasy. I was determined not to watch it.
There are some historical inaccuracies in the series, but that’s expected. One of the reasons I was prepared not to watch it was an article I had read about the role of Merlin. The great irony of the entire Matter of Britain is that Merlin may be the only character who can actually be documented. He was a prince in Wales. He was a poet, a visionary, and a thinker. Mary Stewart may have come closest to the actual Merlin. There was nothing magical about him. He was a man with a great mind.
The one character in Camelot that I was prepared to intensely dislike is the very thing that has hooked me. Joseph Fiennes’ Merlin is the way I always pictured Mary Stewart’s Merlin.
The legend of Arthur is quite sordid. It deals with incest, illegitimate birth, murder, deception, adultery, and betrayal, and that was on a good day in Camelot. The barbarian encroachment on one of the golden ages of humanity, Roman Britain, is important to the story of Arthur. It is portrayed beautifully in the series.