About a month ago, my grandmother came to me with a newspaper cutting from the local paper. Now, she does this probably once a month, but this time she was on to a winner. I’m not usually a massive fan of the fantasy genre but I was intrigued by the ambition of the whole ‘Arthur & Merlin’ venture, and the fact that my home city of Sheffield had such an influence on the project just added to the attraction. I had to find out more, so I connected with the director and production staff over Twitter and set up an interview (which you can catch here). As for the film, that was easy, I rented the whole thing on my mobile phone and watched it in the comfort of my bed.
We’ve all heard of the Celtic legend of ‘Arthur & Merlin’, but director Marco van Belle has done something a little different with this imagining of the famous duo, by giving us an origin story. Who doesn’t love an origin story right? We begin with a juvenile Merlin AKA Myrrdin, who speaks out against the rule of the King and as a result, is chosen as a sacrifice. A young Arthur AKA Arthfael volunteers to perform the sacrifice, but instead allows Myrrdin to flee and go into hiding. Arthfael (Kirk Barker) grows to become a warrior in the King’s army, but is banished from the kingdom when he defies the King’s aide, the druid Aberthol (Nigel Cooke). Guided by his magical sword, Arthfael goes in search of the magical Myrrdin (Stefan Butler) with the intention of defeating the dark magic of the evil druid, thus relieving the kingdom of war and suffering.
Kirk Barker delivers a charismatic and powerful lead display, in which he is equally convincing as a diplomat as he is a warrior. Alongside him, Stefan Butler adds a touch of humour to the proceedings, as well as a rather impressive beard. As the hermit wizard Myrrdin, his mannerisms and behaviour are so believable that it wouldn’t surprise me if he had actually been residing in the wild for a lengthy period. And I mean that as high praise. Nigel Cooke is a great casting choice as the villainous druid Aberthol. His cruel expressions and demeanour match perfectly to the evil intentions of his detestable character, making him instantly unlikeable, a success for any antagonist.
Knowing that many scenes of the film were shot in Sheffield and the Peak District, I was already expecting some beautiful frames, but the array of long, panning shots of the colourful, natural landscape were breathtakingly stunning every time. Contrasting the calm of the countryside are chaotic battle scenes, full of thrilling action and realistic violence, just what we want to see. On top of this, the origins story was exciting and fresh, a completely new direction to any version of this tale I had watched or read before. The narrative was quick paced and intense, a really spectacular all-round production.
Mission accomplished, I dare say. This certainly wouldn’t look out of place on the silver screen, but equally, was an exhilarating experience on the small screen of my phone. Director Marco van Belle and his team have managed to put together a truly enthralling fantasy movie, which is a rare sequence of words for me to use, but I would happily rank this as one of my favourites in the genre. ‘Arthur & Merlin’ is a real triumph for indie films and low budget productions and a film I cannot recommend highly enough.
DIRECTOR: MARCO VAN BELLE
STARRING: KIRK BARKER, STEFAN BUTLER, NIGEL COOKE