Ossus Library Index Fantasy Movie Index

THE MISTS OF AVALON

Directed by Uli Edel (2001, TNT)
Starring Anjelica Huston, Julianna Margulies, Joan Allen, Edward Atterton, and Michael Vartan

The Lady of the Lake tries to ensure the survival of the magical realm of Avalon by engineering Arthur's Kingdom.

 

 

3 stars

April 10th to 12th, 2002 on TV  
   

Strong performances and an entertaining story, but I see many gaps where the original book obviously would have filled us in on what we needed to know.

There were many instances where I felt like we had leapt across a dark void, and were suddenly brought back to reality in another time frame.  Usually this happened after commercials.  When it happened without commercials, it was certainly more jarring. 

I have not read the book by Marion Zimmer-Bradley, on which this mini-series was based.  I don't even know much about the Arthur and Camelot legend.  But I am aware of the general gist of the story, how it begins, how certain events develop, and how it ends, to a certain extent. 

The movie opens with the voiceover of Morgaine LeFey (wasn't the wizard male in the original?), telling us that everything we ever knew about Arthur and Camelot is a lie.  That's comforting...  In this version, the entire kingdom based in Camelot is a struggle for the survival of the religion of the Goddess of Avalon, while Christianity is trying to destroy all others.

The main characters are the three sisters, one of whom is the Lady of the Lake (Viviane), and the child of one of them, Morgaine.  Through visions that Viviane has, she can predict certain things.  This is one of the things that is left unclear, and I suppose I'd have to read the book to find out about it.  Viviane sees that Arthur will be born from her sister and a man who is not her husband, so she engineers that they meet and that her husband dies.  She knows that Arthur will have no heir, so she creates an anonymous incestuous relationship for one night between Arthur and his older sister Morgaine.  But she never has visions of what her other sister is doing, plotting against her.  She never sees how Mordred has been corrupted.  Once Arthur gains the crown, Viviane seems content to leave things go at their own pace, without her intervention.  I wonder why, especially when she must know how Christianity is usurping the people of the Goddess, and how Arthur's kingdom is coming apart.  Instead, she only returns to Camelot at the very end, when it is almost too late.

Morgaine was a terrific character.  We can see how she falls instantly in love with her cousin, Lancelot, the way she gets jealous of Gwenwyfar when she gains Lancelot's attention, and the way she reacts when she listens to her brother tell of the one night affair he had with the huntress virgin, and realizes that it was her that he slept with.  Juliana Margulies did a terrific job with the character.  And as far as I am concerned, she had a marvelous British accent, as well!  It was amazing.

But I wondered why her character completely ignored her son.  She realized that her aunt had taken his love from her, but did she ever try to see him when he was growing up at all?  It seems not, by the way Mordred greeted her when she returned to Camelot at the very end. 

The relationship between Gwenwyfar and Lancelot was different than many tales tell it.  Because Gwenwyfar doesn't produce a child from Arthur, he invites Lancelot into his bed (!) to try and impregnate her, but for nothing.  Before and after that night, they kept their love separate, knowing that they belonged to each other, but staying away because of their love for their king.  But when Gwenwyfar learns about the incestuous relationship between Arthur and Morgaine, she decides that it is the sin of her husband that has kept her from having a child.  So she decides that it is fine to take comfort in Lancelot's bed. 

Mordred is a complete mystery to me.  He seemed to be sincere when he claimed to want to love Arthur, but apparently, he was being sarcastic.  Although I thought the actor did a terrific job with his character, his motivation was not played properly when we see it.  When he revealed his true colors to the audience, spying on Lancelot and Gwenwyfar, telling his father about his true lineage, and so on, he was great.  But then, when Arthur gives him power (in a poorly constructed, acted, and directed scene), he does nothing about Lancelot, instead turning Camelot into a madhouse.  Even his death scene, though acted out very nicely by Mordred, was not well constructed.  It looked like the two actors were in a gag scene.

Arthur was not one that I enjoyed watching, for the most part.  Even as a young man, when he at least looked decent (he looked horrid when he was older), his acting did nothing for me, and the way he delivered his lines was not up the standards of the other actors. 

In the end, Viviane's plans backfire.  She tried to save Avalon, and instead she ended up destroying it.  I wonder if she even realized that.  She gained the enmity of her middle sister because she forced events into creating Arthur.  She gained the hatred of her youngest sister by constantly tampering with people, so Morgause desperately wanted to prove that she could also gain power.  But worst of all, Morgaine hated her because of the fertility celebration, where she made love to her own brother.  She vowed never to set foot on Avalon again.  So Viviane never had a successor, and worse, she actually created the unstable heir to Arthur, which destroyed everything.

I was very impressed with the special effects of this show.  Normally mini-series effects are pretty poor, but that is not the case at all here.  The effects were used sparingly, and subtly.  The Isle of Avalon is beautiful, though I have to admit that the approach to it looks too much like a matte painting.  But I loved the Stonehenge replica on the mountain, and the way the Priestesses could part the boundaries between worlds, to appear in visions, and to transport Gwenwyfar to Avalon for a small moment.  Even the battle scenes, which generally get the short shrift in movies like this, were well staged.  Whether is was Uther getting the upper hand on Morgaine's father, Morgaine fending off the Saxon hoards (man, those guards are worse than the red-shirts on Star Trek!), or Arthur's army battling the masses of Saxons at the end, I was once again very impressed.  None looked fake, or staged, even.  And when Morgaine and Arthur were not permitted into Avalon at the very end, they still get a wonderful glimpse of it by giving back Excalibur. 

I wondered at the lack of magic in this world.  The creators of this series did a good job at restraining themselves.  Merlin has only a bit part in the whole movie.  Most of the time, when magic is being performed, we only see him or Viviane standing near, presumably acting as a focus for the magical forces.  They never swing their staffs around and throw lightning.  The actual magic is much simpler.  Viviane and her Priestesses can open the veil between their world and the real one, like Morgaine did, or they can cast their presences out into the world, or they could master the elements, conjuring up a storm, or give life to a fire.  They could also conjure up healing potions, or fertility medallions, or cast curses.  One curse I was never clear on was the motivation behind the one Morgause used on Gwenwyfar, even before Arthur had married the girl.  It seemed like a random thing. 

I enjoyed this mini-series, for the most part.  It was engaging throughout, though there were many parts that didn't keep me interested (which I did not elaborate on here), and many times I wondered what the characters were doing, or why.  I liked the misunderstanding between Morgaine and her brother about her marriage, though it could have been handled a little better.  There were a few exciting instances, but mostly, the show plodded along, giving us a glimpse of Avalon, and what it represented, and how it worked.  So yes, I did enjoy it, but it didn't leave a huge impression on me.

 
   

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