As the opening of the film states, this is based on the true story of William Wilberforce, a man who changed history, ending the slave trade in Britain. Which, being American, we don’t tend to consider slavery elsewhere.
“By the late 18th century, over 11 million African men, women, and children had been taken from Africa to be used as slaves in the West Indies and the American colonies. Great Britain was the mightiest superpower on earth and its empire was built on the backs of claves. The slave trade was considered acceptable by all by a few. Of these, even fewer were brave to enough to speak against it.”
The film features Ioan Gruffudd (he appeared as a minor character in James Cameron’s Titanic, was the titular Horatio Hornblower in the miniseries, Lancelot in the 2004 King Arthur movie, and Reed Richards in the first two Fantastic Four movies) as William Wilberforce, Benedict Cumberbatch, before he landed his hit roles, as William Pitt, Michael Gambon (Dumbledore after Richard Harris passed away) is Lord Charles Fox, Rufus Sewell (Tristan and Isolde and Knight’s Tale) is Thomas Clarkson, Ciarán Hinds (Mance Rayder in Game of Thrones) is Lord Tarleton, and Toby Jones (Dr. Zola in the MCU, the voice of Dobby in Harry Potter, the Dream Lord in an episode of the Eleventh Doctor’s run in Doctor Who, he also appeared in Ever After) is the Duke of Clarence.
The movie jumps back and forth between “present time” while William is trying to rest and heal from colitis, and recounting how he’s gotten to where he is. William’s cousins take him to Bath to take the mineral water; and set him up on a date with Barbara Spooner. She’s intrigued to meet him; she supports his abolitionist work, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He begins his tale fifteen year prior where he is playing cards at a club after a day in the Parliament. His opponent, the Duke of Clarence tries to offer his slave as payment during a game. Wilberforce [of Wilber as he is referred to during the movie, to avoid confusion with William Pitt] refuses. Wilber and Pitt discuss how, as young politicians they want to change the world. Wilber is reminded of a song his old preacher wrote, a former slave captain, he found God and wrote Amazing Grace. Wilber enters the room again, Pitt silences the men, and Wilber sings [behind the scenes note: that was Ioan actually singing (I am not surprised, he is Welsh, and Wales is filled with wonderful singers)].
Wilber debates at that time whether he should enter the political field, or devote his life to God. Pitt wants him by his side when he plans to become Prime Minister; the youngest in history. “We’re too young to realize certain things are impossible,” and we do them anyway. Pitt arranges for Wilber to meet other abolitionists and Equiano. Wilber even visits his old preacher for advice. The preacher supports Wilber entering politics (as someone at the dinner suggested, Wilber should do both). He has work to do, taken on the other members of Parliament. We jump back to Wilber fighting his illness. He takes opium to counter the symptoms. Barbara returns for a meal and they are sent outside to talk. Wilber feels like he failed his task. Every year, he presented a bill, and every year it failed.
He continues to speak of the early years. He gave a tour of the docks to shock the aristocrats with the horrors of slavery. Equiano published his account. They had a petition signed by 390,000 of the common people, and Lord Charles Fox of Parliament. This is after Lord Tarleton states there is “no evidence the Africans themselves have any objections to the trade.” (Yeah, I doubt that evidence). Wilber shouts back “no matter how loud you shout, you will not drown out the voice of the people!” Tarleton scoffs at the notion of the people. The bill failed the first year. Five years in, there is talk of revolution in Europe, spurred by the American colonies. And opposition, in the form of abolition teeters dangerously close to sedition in those times. Barbara argues that now is the time to regroup, the war with France is being won and when people stop being afraid, they remember their compassion.
Barbara and Wilber find they are both prone to impatience and rash decisions. They get married. Wilber gets his voice back, and his friend. As Wilber’s Prime Minister, Pitt urges caution. He is friend, to hell with caution. Wilber’s preacher has finally published his account of his years slave trading. He urges Wilber to use it, and damn the people with it. Wilber gathers the team back together. A lawyer amongst them suggests they cheat. First, they take away slave ship’s protection of a neutral flag, tying it in with the war effort and it is brought up by someone not part of their inner circle. And the opposition has been given free tickets to the races, so the bill is sure to pass. Pitt, who is gravely ill himself two years later, makes sure his successors will back Wilberforce.
Everyone is in attendance when the final vote is taken. The “Home and Foreign Slave Trade Act, the unamended bill calling for the abolishen of the slave trade throughout the entire British Empire,” 283 to 16, passes. Cheers erupt. The Duke of Clarence tells his friend Lord Tarleton of noblis oblige; his “nobility obliges me to recognize the virtue of an exceptional commoner.” Everyone stands and applauds Wilberforce. “William Wilberforce continued to battle injustice for the rest of his life. He transformed the hearts and minds of his countrymen on education, healthcare, and prison reform to accomplish his second great dream – making a better world.” Bagpipes play the tune Amazing Grace as the film finishes. “William Wilberforce continued campaigning until his death in 1833…he is buried in Westminster Abbey next to his friend, William Pitt.”
I find this film uplifting. I cheer for Wilberforce through all the setbacks. It also reminds me why I hate politics, whatever the form. There are several points I want to cry; when William Pitt dies, as Wilber’s best friend. When the bagpipes play Amazing Grace. When Wilberforce finally wins. It’s a great cast, full of wonderful actors. Ioan was stupendous; I prefer him in this sort of role rather than Mr. Fantastic (though he’s not bad there; we’ll cover that once I get into the superhero movies). Overall, a good movie. Just not one to put on if you’re not in the mood for a little heartache.
Up Next: The American Civil War, starting with Gods and Generals
“When she arrives, all eyes are upon her. When absent, she is the subject of universal conversation. And what we see her wearing tonight, I look forward to seeing on the rest of you tomorrow! The Empress of fashion – the Duchess of Devonshire!”
Keira Knightley continues to play period roles (Pirates of the Caribbean, the 2005 film Pride and Prejudice, 2012 Anna Karenia [that’s three hours of my life I’ll never get back and I still don’t understand what the story was]) stars as Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort from Harry Potter and the new M in James Bond, amongst other roles) is the Duke of Devonshire, Hayley Atwell (she would go on to be Peggy Carter in the MCU, the mother, Evelyn Robin in 2018’s Christopher Robin, a brief role in Testament of Youth and Disney’s live action Cinderella) is Lady Bess [Elizabeth] Foster, and Dominic Cooper (younger Howard Stark in the MCU and Sky in the Mamma Mia movies) is the politician, Charles Grey. I watched the film because of the lead actors; it’s not a time period that I study closely.
The film starts in April of 1774, Georgiana and her friends are outside, watching young men, including Charles Grey race each other, while her mother settles her engagement to the Duke of Devonshire. Georgiana is seventeen and believes that the Duke truly loves her. On their wedding night, the Duke remarks “I never understand why women’s clothes must be do damn complicated.” Georgiana replies that they are one of the few ways women have to express themselves. She’s very nervous for their wedding night, but the Duke gets right to business. Her mother points out that a wife’s duty is to provide her husband with a male heir; she shouldn’t be concerned with talking with her husband.
The Duke is the primary sponsor of the Whig party and thus hosts dinners where the party members give speeches. He’s quickly bored of the speeches and leaves, but Georgiana stays and becomes involved in politics and gains favor of the primary members. But in private, the Duke has many affairs, which shocks Georgiana at first. Then one of his illegitimate daughters is brought to the house when her mother dies and the Duke expects Georgiana to raise young Charlotte without a fuss. “Consider it practice for our son,” he tells his pregnant wife. Later, at a party, Georgiana goes into labor (and modern audiences wince at her drinking wine while pregnant). The Duke expects it to be a boy. It’s a girl. When Georgiana’s mother visits, he barely speaks to her, frustrated that it is not the promised son (sound like some other historical guy we all know?) They jump to six years later, Georgiana content with her three girls, Charlotte, HarryO, and Little G.
While visiting Bath and taking the waters “for her health,” Georgiana and the Duke both meet Bess Foster. Georgiana quickly befriends the woman. Bess’s husband is enjoying his mistress at home and Bess wished for diversion. Her husband also is keeping her three sons away from her (now we know why the Duke is interested in her) and has a habit of beating her, which is not illegal. Georgiana manages to convince the Duke to invite Bess to stay with them. They attend a play that is a satire of the Devonshire’s marriage. In attendance of the play is Charles Grey. Bess speaks to him and remarks that it is well known the Duke is the only man in England not in love with his wife. Bess later remarks to Georgiana that Charles is clearly in love with G. She demonstrates that intercourse can be pleasurable and instructs Georgiana to close her eyes and imagine it’s Charles Grey.
Georgiana continues to help draw attention for the Whig party and gets to visit Charles Grey who seeks to work his way up the political ladder. She’s delightfully happy, until she returns home to hear moans coming from Bess’s rooms and the servants refuse to answer if it’s the Duke in there. Georgiana confronts the Duke. She has never objected to the Duke’s many affairs, she has accepted whatever arrangements have been made. But Bess is her one single thing of her own; she is her sole comfort in their marriage. Her husband has “robbed me of my only friend!” The Duke comes back with he has upheld his end of the marriage, but his wife has not (by not giving him a son). Georgiana wants Bess out. The Duke refuses. Georgiana runs to her mother’s home. Her mother advises she give up her gambling and politics and set to the duty of providing her husband with a male heir (I’m guessing people of this time have still not figured out that it’s the man who determines the sex of the baby, like the woman has any control).
Bess explains to Georgiana that the Duke of Devonshire is the most powerful peer of the realm; he is her only hope of getting to see her sons again. Georgiana orders her out of her room. She understandably feels betrayed by her dear friend. The three boys arrive at their home and Georgiana witnesses the attention that the Duke readily bestows upon the boys (which he has never shown for his daughters). Georgiana visits Charles and gives in to their feelings. Charles points out that Georgiana likes to “please other all the time.” “It’s what I’ve been brought up to do. It’s a difficult lesson to unlearn.” At home, Georgiana tries to make a deal with the Duke. She will give him and Bess her blessing if he will accept her feelings for Charles Grey. Bess tries to rescue her friend and points out that G is only asking for what the Duke and Bess have. The Duke silences her. He will not make a deal; he is not the one to ever make deals, he has everything. He can’t make any of Bess’s sons his heirs. Georgiana leaves the table. The Duke thunders after her and forces himself on her in her rooms. Screams echo through the large house and Bess takes Charlotte away from the door. “Give me a son,” the Duke orders Georgiana, “until then, stay here. And do as I say.” [I hate this man for that.]
During another party, Georgiana is quite drunk. Her Whig friends try to help her, but her wig ends up catching fire. The doctor determines that she is pregnant. Next scene: bells are ringing. The baby is a boy. The Duke pays Georgiana as part of their arrangement. While the Duke is away celebrating his heir, Charles calls upon the house. It was Bess’s idea. After another party, they sneak away. Georgiana decides to go to Bath on her own and gets to spend more time with Charles. Until her husband and mother show up. Here again we see the double standard imposed upon women: it’s fine for the Duke to have his mistress live in the same house as his wife, but it’s not fine for Georgiana to spend time with a man who actually loves her. They leave letters from the children for Georgiana; the Duke has set an ultimatum: give up Charles, or he will destroy the man’s career and never let Georgiana see her children again. Georgiana gives in and reads the letters, then rushes home.
At dinner, Charles shows up shouting for Georgiana. She tries to calm him; she still loves him, but she cannot give up her children. Charles insists he wants to marry her and he doesn’t care if their children are boys or girls. Georgiana goes back to dinner. And tells the Duke that she is carrying Charles’s child. The Duke has Bess tell Georgiana that she is to go to the country to give birth and the child will be given to the Grey family. Bess also stands up to the Duke and informs him that she will accompany her friend. She comforts Georgiana when she breaks down after giving up her daughter, Eliza to the Grey family.
When Georgina returns, the Duke attempts to comfort her; he wishes for their lives to find a calm normalcy. He asks her to show unity by showing up at a party together. The trio arrives and Georgiana reenters society. She has a brief conversation with Charles Grey, who tells her that he is engaged and that he has a new niece, Eliza, that Georgiana should meet someday. The film shows a few statements over the ending scenes of Georgiana playing with all the children: “Georgiana continued to be one of the most celebrated and influential women of her day. Charles Grey became Prime Minister. Georgiana, Bess, and the Duke lived together [for twenty-five years] until Georgiana’s death. With Georgiana’s blessing, Bess went on to marry the Duke and become the next Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana frequently visited Eliza in secret. Eliza named her daughter Georgiana.”
While not a favorite movie of mine, I find it interesting. The scene of the Duke raping Georgiana is one that has stuck with me since first seeing the movie. I don’t quite drool over these gowns, but I do recognize that they are stunning. The movie also demonstrates that arranged matches rarely go well.
Up Next: We actually go back in time a little to Amazing Grace
The title of this blog is taken from the rhyme to remember Henry VIII’s wives: “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.” Henry divorced Catherine of Aragon, beheaded Anne Bolyen, Jane Seymour died, he divorced Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard was beheaded as well, and Katherine Parr survived Henry. Based on the popular 2002 novel (emphasis novel, meaning fictional) by Philippa Gregory. A lot of familiar faces in this film (and ironically, a bunch of them show up in the MCU). Natalie Portman (most famous as Jane in the Thor movies and Padmé in the Star Wars prequels) stars as Anne Boleyn while Scarlett Johansson (now known as Black Widow) is her elder sister, Mary (not younger as they state early in the film). Eric Bana (who we saw as Hector in Troy, also plays the villain Nero in the rebooted Star Trek films, he was Bruce Banner in the 2003 Hulk movie which is not part of the MCU, and I had forgotten he was Uther in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I forgot because I’ve seen the movie once and dislike it), is Henry VIII. Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Hobbit, Amazing Grace, War Horse, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Imitation Game, Richard III in The Hollow Crown, and now Dr. Strange) has a relatively small role as William Carey. Eddie Redmayne (before he was Marius in Les Misérables, Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts) also had a relatively small role as William Stafford. Jane Parker may look familiar; she’s played by Juno Temple (she’s the queen in the 2011 The Three Musketeers and one of the fairies in the Maleficent movies). The Duke of Norfolk sounded familiar; he’s played by David Morrissey, who was in an episode of Doctor Who. Oh yes, and say hello to Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones) who briefly appears as one of the king’s messengers.
I have read the book (it may have been after I watched the movie), and I had issues with its historical inaccuracy, because Tudor England is a period of history that I have done a fair bit of reading on; and one that my mother (also holds a Bachelor’s in History, like my brother…well, he now has a Master’s) has done even more reading on. Unfortunately, most of those books are packed away somewhere. Already mentioned that Mary was the elder sister, not Anne as stated in the film. Anyways…the movie opens with three small children playing; their futures already being discussed. The father remarks that the family can improve their standings with their daughters, but to truly get ahead, one needs more than a fair look and a kind heart.
Time jump ahead to Mary Boleyn marrying William Carey, as discussed at the beginning. At the castle in London, Catherine of Aragon delivers a stillborn son; she apologizes to her daughter, the princess Mary, that there is no brother to make the country safe. There is a fear that if Henry does not have a legitimate son to pass the throne onto (he does have an illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy), England will descend into civil war, which it already went through when he father took the throne (War of the Roses). A man, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, rides away from court and to his sister’s estate (if the surname Howard rings a bell in regard to the Tudor dynasty; Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard was a relation of the Boleyns’). He plans for his family to aid the king in a delicate matter; Henry will be looking for a mistress and Howard plans to put Anne in his path. Anne accepts the challenge. Preparations are made for a royal visit. But when Anne is too daring on a hunt, the king is injured, so the Duke sends Mary to tend to the king. Once Henry returns to court, he calls for Mary, her husband, and family. Mary and Anne become ladies in waiting to Queen Catherine, and William Carey is made a member of Henry’s privy council (a high honor). Catherine suspects why the Boleyn sisters are now in her household and Anne becomes jealous of Mary’s attention from Henry. She tells her sister “I will make my own way.”
Henry trusts Mary; he understands what it’s like to be the second child. (Okay, on the one hand, yes. Henry was the second son of Henry VII, he had an older brother, Arthur. Catherine of Aragon was originally married to him before he died young. Then Henry was faced with becoming king. And we’ve already covered that Mary was not the second child). In the wee hours of the morning after, Mary has to report to her family; this is no longer a private matter. Their uncle openly states he hopes Mary will give Henry a son. Excuse me, Mr. Duke of Norfolk…Henry isn’t married to Mary, so the son won’t be legitimate, just like Henry Fitzroy (historically, “Fitz” as part of a surname signified that the child was a bastard; thus “Fitzroy” meant “son of the king.” But not legitimate). Henry gives William Carey an assignment away from court. What is not mentioned is that Carey dies at some point. Meanwhile, Anne runs off and secretly marries Henry Percy, the heir to the richest land owner in England. However, as a peer of the realm, Percy’s marriage has to be decided by the king. And he’s already engaged. In the movie, Anne is banished for France for a few months to prevent scandal. In actuality, both Mary and Anne spent several years in France as part of their education. And Mary possibly had a reputation she gained there, which is why Henry may have been interested in her. There is only one historical recording of her by Henry and no actual evidence that she was a long term mistress, nor that she bore any children to Henry. Anne’s mother gives her the advice that women can better achieve what they want by allowing men to believe they are in charge; it is the art of being a woman.
In this movie, Mary does become pregnant by the king and is seen openly walking with him (not likely. Henry was devoutly Catholic at this point. It’s one thing to take a mistress, and expected of royal men [but frowned upon by women…double standard]. It’s another to set aside your lawful wife…whose nephew is the Holy Roman Emperor). Her family becomes highly favored and gains new titles and lands. The mother is quick to point out to the father that this all can disappear as quick as it comes. But when Mary is confined for the health of her child, the king’s head can turn and another family can pull the same stunt that the Howards and Boleyns have and put their daughters’ in the king’s eye. They fear the Seymours. So they recall Anne. She takes the opportunity to flirt with Henry. Mary knows that Anne will not act in Mary’s interests; she will act with her own. And Anne beguiles the king. But she holds out against his sexual advances; she knows she cannot fully trust him. He’s already been unfaithful to his wife and has taken her own sister as mistress. There will be no difference in Anne. I cannot remember from my reading if it was truly Anne’s idea for Henry to break from the Catholic church in order to annul his marriage, or if it was Henry’s idea so he was not bound to Rome. Anne allows Henry to have hope when her sister bears a son, knowing she’ll lose the king if not.
We know that Henry breaks from Rome and establishes his own Church of England and brings about the Reformation. His marriage to Catherine is annulled based upon her being married to his elder brother before him (there is historical contention whether their marriage was actually consummated). Henry marries Anne. She eventually bears him a healthy daughter, Elizabeth. Henry remarks “if we can have a healthy daughter, we can have a healthy son.” The movie shows one miscarriage (historically, she miscarried when Henry was grievously injured in a joust). She also had a stillborn child. Research has come out that Henry had a condition that affected his wives that they had difficulty carrying multiple pregnancies, particularly later in their lives. The film shows Anne, desperate, asks her own brother George for help. His wife, whom he has a strained relationship, witnesses the plea and reports both to the Duke of Norfolk and the king himself. Anne and George are subsequently arrested; Anne charged with adultery and incest. In truth, most of the charges are believed to have been the work of Thomas Cromwell, a former ally until they clashed politically (though not completely proven). (Cromwell is not even shown in this film). And she was charged with adultery with seven men, including some members of court. She was found guilty, even by her own uncle (this was all political for him). Being queen, she was executed by a skilled swordsman. The film shows Mary pleading with Henry on her sister’s behalf and expecting Henry to spare Anne. He does not. She’s shown picking Elizabeth up from her mother and leaving with the child (she was already at Hever Castle with her own household at this point, including the former princess Mary).
The film finishes summing up what happened to several of the characters. Mary did indeed marry William Stafford. But it was done in secret and angered both King Henry and Anne and she was banished from court, mainly due to his inferior prospects. She had four children (though at the closing of the film, they show three, one of them being little Elizabeth). Her first child was actually a girl, then a son, both by William Carey. She may had had two further children by William Stafford. On the bright side, the film is correct in stating “Henry’s fear of leaving England without a strong successor turned out to be unfounded. He did leave an heir, who was to rule over England for forty-five years. It was not the boy he yearned for, but the strong red-haired girl Anne gave him – Elizabeth.”
I will admit, the costumes in the movie are gorgeous, though they seem to dress Eric Bana in wide coats to give the impression of the girth Henry displayed later in life. At that age, Henry was still young and athletic. I don’t think it does a well of a job displaying the intrigues that The Tudors does, but they’re trying to compress a lot of events into a two hour film. It does show that a lot of what occurred were older men using young women as pawns to gain power and wealth. And if you want an author to read who has done a lot of research into the Tudors, read Alison Weir.
Next: Slight change in plans (due to me not being able to find the movies I wanted, but I think it will be okay), we’ll jump to Rob Roy.
But, a quick note on Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth. I remember reading the Royal Diaries book on her as a girl. I actually read several of them and the Dear America books, and that’s a contributing factor to me later becoming a history major. Elizabeth I was my first favorite queen and partly led me to British history (I already liked Robin Hood at that point, but this was a queen, a woman I could admire). Of course, actually studying history gives a lot more insight to what was simplified for a children’s book. I remember it painting Mary in very bad light, yet I eventually learned there are parts of her tale that are sympathetic as well. I believe that Elizabeth I was a great queen, but she had her downfalls as well. And the Tudors lead into the Stuarts, which became another favorite time period of mine to study. When I graduated college with my history degree, I considered for a while finding a job near Jamestown and the other early colonies so I could tie in my interest of British history with American history (did not work out, decent paying jobs in the field with the experience that I had are hard to come by; I’ll spare you my rant on the viscous circle that exists.)
Just thought I’d give a little insight. If you have any further questions, let me know!
Stars a very young Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes. Sir Patrick Stewart portrays Jane’s father, Henry Grey, the Duke of Suffolk. Joss Ackland, who is the wise and loveable Hans from The Mighty Ducks (along with the scheming Victor Landbergh in 1994’s Miracle on 34th Street, and was Andrei Lysenko in The Hunt for Red October) briefly appears here as Sir John Bridges. Lady Jane Grey, rarely referred to as Queen Jane, appears as a footnote in English history; she ruled for only nine days.
When Henry VIII died in 1547, his young son, Edward VI, aged nine, ascended to the throne. His uncle, Edward Seymour, ruled as Lord Protector and named himself the Duke of Somerset. But he was replaced in 1552 by John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick, who became the Duke of Northumberland and the new Lord Protector (Duke is a higher rank than Earl). This is where the movie picks up. Dudley, like many others advising the young king, want to keep England Protestant after Henry’s split from the Catholic church. Henry VIII’s will laid out that if Edward died without children, the crown would pass to his eldest daughter Mary, a staunch Catholic, then to his younger daughter, Elizabeth. But, if Dudley and his cronies pass over both Mary and Elizabeth as bastards, as they were declared when Edward was born, they can pick up the Tudor line with Henry’s youngest sister, Mary, who had married Charles, the Duke of Suffolk and had a daughter, Frances, who married Henry Grey and they had Lady Jane. (Henry’s other sister, Margaret, was married to James IV of Scotland, and in this movie is declared not a valid to pass the crown, though not explained why. This familial line will come into play after Elizabeth I passes). Most importantly, Lady Jane was a devout Protestant.
Dudley wonders about marrying Jane to Edward, but it is clear that Edward will not live long enough to bear children. Edward is shown hunting with her father, but when her father rebukes her for her interest in books, rather than things useful to a husband, Edward shows her kindness. Jane is shown visiting the princess Mary in 1553, where Mary warns her to take care. Dudley decides to marry Jane to his youngest son, Guilford. Neither child is pleased about the arrangement. Guilford is shown drinking in taverns and was dragged out of a brothel. Jane fights the engagement, declaring she doesn’t want to marry anyone (though I don’t think she would have opposed a marriage to Edward; they got along very well). Her mother beats her, repeatedly. Still Jane refuses, not believing that the king wishes this for her. Dudley retrieves Edward to talk to Jane. He tells her it is her duty to obey her parents, and her king. Edward trusts Dudley (wise modern adults do not) She finally relents.
Edward collapses after his visits and the doctor tells Dudley the young king has only a week left to live. Dudley commands the doctor to keep Edward alive, using arsenic, to give him more time. I don’t believe this is been completely proven, but it is one theory some historians have. The marriage between Jane and Guilford does not start well. Jane has no desire to live has husband and wife, instead, she wishes to devote herself to her studies. And Guildford gets drunk at their feast and passes out in the marriage bed. They are to live at the old monastery of Hertfordshire, until their parents have need of them. Peasants greet the couple on the road and want their land back. When Henry VIII dissolved the Catholic monasteries, the lands were stripped from the peasants who worked it and the treasures inside were distributed to loyal courtiers. Guildford explains this to Jane, who has studied philosophy and theology, but doesn’t quite understand the world around her. He also explains that a shilling is no longer worth a shilling since it’s not made out of silver (similar to our penny. Used to be made out of copper, now it’s made out of zinc). When Jane demands why doesn’t he do anything if he sees this problem, he shouts back that it never works. He later apologizes to Jane and asks her to explain her beliefs. They start getting to know one another and their passions. Which leads to them consummating their marriage and turns everything around.
They spend several happy days together, a true honeymoon. They share their wishes; Jane wishes for the country to be true to the Protestant faith. Guildford wishes that men wouldn’t be branded for beggary when they have no land to farm. They wish that children would be loved, for a better world. Meanwhile, Dudley convinces Edward to change the succession and make Jane his heir. Once he has that, he allows Edward to die. The Privy Council argues the new succession; both Mary and Elizabeth are threats. But Dudley has his way and the couple, already fearing their parents’ scheme, plan to run, but are given word of Edward’s death and taken to…possibly Westminster, they never say. Jane is declared Queen and she tries to say it’s not right. She would be aware that Mary would be next in line. But everyone kneels and her mother leads her to the throne. She’s crowned and they urge her to name Guildford king. She cries out for her husband and he breaks away from his brothers to comfort his wife. The people are ordered out so they can speak. Guildford explains that together, they are like a coin, two parts of a whole. They can work together. Guildford wants her to be queen; she lets him crown her.
The people aren’t too keen on Jane being Queen; they want Mary. They want a return to the familiar. Mary sends a letter declaring herself as queen. Jane’s first command is that she wants a real shilling; one actually made of silver. She dismisses the Spanish Ambassador, stating that her people and their suffering comes first. He’s insulted when she mentions “wardrobe” to Guildford, not realizing that she is donating the royal wardrobe to the poor. Jane and Guildford also want a school for the poor children, the monastery land returned to the poor. Jane argues with their fathers on who should lead the army against Mary. Jane wants her father close, though Dudley had arranged for Henry to lead. Guildford suggests Dudley lead. Frances recalls that Dudley claimed he could control his son, and shouts that her daughter is stupid.
Only nine days have passed and her Council is gone. Guildford looks on it that now they are really ruling England. Jane just wants it to be over. Henry comes in; it is. Mary is pronounced queen. Henry tries to apologize and makes amends to Jane, but Frances insist they flee. Guards separate Guildford and Jane and take them to separate cells in the Tower of London. Dudley failed at leading the army and is imprisoned as well. I don’t understand his confrontation with Guildford, though he seems to be switching sides, to save his own skin.
Mary has Jane brought to her. She understands that this was not Jane’s fault. They will be tried and condemned, but Mary has the power of reprieve, which she will use. But Mary also loves Philip of Spain, who is to be her husband. The Spanish Ambassador, on word from Charles V, the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor (her mother’s nephew, making him Mary’s cousin), insists that all discord must be gone before Philip will marry her. Then Henry joins the rebel forces to put his daughter back on the throne, insisting to his wife “I owe it to my daughter! She has need of me!” The rebellion ultimately fails and forces Mary’s hand. The couple may be saved, if they renounce Protestantism. They are allowed to see each other, but cannot speak. Mary’s confessor, whom Jane met two years prior, tries to convert Jane. But her will is strong and he cannot condemn a belief so pure. He allows them one last night. The couple can keep their ideas untarnished and will be alive together in the afterlife. “We’ll fly, away, beyond their reach. So far that their touch cannot tarnish us. And at last we will be – nothing – nobody – each other’s – only this time, forever.” Guildford is led away first. The confessor describes to Jane what happened to her husband as she is led to the private gallows. The shilling survives all this and Mary shows grief for just a moment, then goes to greet her husband. Lady Suffolk curtsies to Mary and the closing narration echoes a passage from Plato that Jane translated for the confessor at the beginning of the movie: “Soul takes flight to a world that is invisible. But there arriving, she is sure of bliss. And forever dwells in Paradise.”
I feel this is an underappreciated film. While there were dramatic scenes added I’m sure, this did follow history much better than other movies. No, Lady Suffolk most likely would not have been part of Mary’s court that soon after her husband’s failed rebellion (and he most likely would have rebelled more so he could control his daughter on the throne – but we want to believe the best from Patrick Stewart) and on the day of her daughter’s execution. But it does show that parents controlled their children’s destinies and those children didn’t often have a choice. Jane didn’t want to be queen; she was never trained to be queen because the likelihood of her becoming queen had been slim. Jane and Guildford were not instantly in love. It took compromise and swallowing their own pride and a willingness to hear other ideas. But they were so cute together; wonderful performances from Helena and Cary. I appreciate that they made Mary appear human and not completely mad or crazy, as she is often depicted in Tudor stories.
Next Time: We go back to Henry VIII proper with The Other Boleyn Girl
A 2001 film set in medieval Europe featuring jousting…and rock music. It’s a fun movie that’s good to throw on when bored with TV. It stars Heath Ledger (later to reinvent the role of Joker in Dark Knight; he also features in Brokeback Mountain, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Patriot [haven’t seen those], Brothers Grimm [saw it once, don’t remember liking it], and Ned Kelly [eh, all star cast, the plot confused me] as peasant squire William Thatcher. This is the first role I saw Rufus Sewell in, playing the antagonist Count Adhemar (he’s an antagonist in Legend of Zorro, good guy Marke in Tristan and Isolde, decent guy in Amazing Grace, bit of a jerk in The Holiday, and lately was Lord Melbourne in the show Victoria). Paul Bettany (voice of Jarvis in the first Marvel movies, then became Vision in Age of Ultron. He was Lord Melbourne in the movie Young Victoria, bit ironic. Also featured in as the albino in The Da Vinci Code, and surgeon Dr. Stephen Maturin, best friend of Russell Crowe’s Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander: Far Side of the World) is Geoffrey Chaucer, yes, that writer. Alan Tudyk (now known for his voice acting abilities in Frozen and Star Wars, but would later play pilot Wash in Firefly) is fellow peasant Wat alongside Roland, played by Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones and Friar Tuck in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood). And if Sir Ector in the flashback looks familiar, he’s played by Nick Brimble, who was Little John in Prince of Thieves.
The film opens with the death of Sir Ector, master of Wat, Roland, and William. He’s due to joust again in a few minutes, or else they forfeit and the young lads haven’t eaten in three days. William gets the idea to wear Ector’s armor and finish the match, with Queen’s We Will Rock You occurring in the stands. Then, when he wins, this could be their chance to change their stars. He takes the name Sir Ulrich von Lichenstein from Gelderland (and apparently, a real knight and real place; though not as used in the movie). They come across as naked Chaucer trudging the road. Being peasants, no, they have not read any of his works (takes place before The Canterbury Tales), but they do have use of a writer to forge papers of nobility. He also becomes Sir Ulrich’s herald, to announce him at tournaments.
William discovers a beautiful woman, Lady Jocelyn and decides to woo her. He’s…somewhat successful. He starts following her, on horseback, into a church. And doesn’t even get her name. Count Adhemar also discovers Jocelyn and helpfully explains the rules of jousting for the audience while Taking Care of Business plays in the background. William faces Sir Thomas Coleville (another historical character, but not from this time) and mercifully draws on the last pass so they both retain honor.
Will continues to compete and pines after Jocelyn. She sends him a token to wear at the next tourney. William faces Adhemar, who proves why he has never been unhorsed. They break lances on each other on their first pass. The second pass, Will scores and avoids Adhemar’s lance. But on the third pass, Adhemar knocks William’s helm off, causing a flashback to when Will was a child and seeing knights with his father. Adhemar returns Jocleyn’s favor to her and tells “Ulrich” “see me when you’re worthy.” William loses the jousting portion, but wins the sword. He now had enough to pay Kate the blacksmith, who fixed his armor. She wants to join his crew and even offers to make new armor for him. He dismisses her first, until he finds out he needs to attend the ball in order to see Jocelyn. Chaucer, does not do the best job of teaching Will to dance, so Roland makes Will politely ask Kate (since he’s going through the trouble of making a new tunic for his friend). Chaucer and Wat are not boon companions, but they’re funny. And we’re treated to Golden Years, and modern dancing. Knight’s Tale does not try to be wholly accurate (most certainly in their female costumes. Which is disappointing, because some of the gowns from that period can be gorgeous).
Some of the heralds’ introductions are hilarious; Adhemar’s messes up at one point and declares his master “a shining example of chivalry and champagne” and “defender of his enormous manhood.” Chaucer certainly has a way with words and whips the crowds into a frenzy for Sir Ulrich. When Adhemar is about to face Coleville, he withdraws when he finds out that the other knight is actually Prince Edward in disguise. Chaucer in turns reports this to William, but he still jousts. The royal endangers himself and has obviously disguised himself so he can truly compete. Coleville appreciates the gesture. William wins the tournament, but his victory his hollow since he did not defeat Adhemar.
William goes on to win the next slew of tournaments, aided by Prince Edward sending Adhemar back to the front and the Battle of Poitiers. In the meantime, Will has Chaucer help him write a rather romantic letter to Jocelyn, aided by all his friends. The couple meets for the Paris tournament and William unfortunately cannot produce poetry on demand. Jocelyn insists that if “Ulrich” truly loves her, he will lose the tournament, rather than win it in her name. She’s got a point. But, Will has to take a pounding first (this is also after his friends have made a substantial bet with a group of Frenchmen). Still loves her. Mercifully, she sends word that he is to win the tournament, which he does. Chaucer sees Jocelyn enter William’s tent after the tournament and remarks “as Guinevere comes to Lancelot. Bed him well, m’lady. Bed him well.” (By this age, I knew what he meant). She discovers what exactly Will went through to prove his love, and has noted that his friends slip call him “William” instead of “Ulrich.” His name matters not, only that she can call him hers, and the good that comes with the bad will be of her doing as well.
William and his friends return to England, bring about another flashback of when they left. They enter London for the World Championships to The Boys Are Back in Town (and now I cannot hear that song and not think of that scene). Adhemar will compete; Prince Edward has recalled him for his company’s behavior in France. Will takes the opportunity to visit Cheapside, where he grew up and finds his father still alive, though blind. Unfortunately, Adhemar manages to spy on him and uses the information to prove the lie William has been leading. The next day, Jocelyn and Chaucer bring word that guards will arrest Will if he competes. His friends all urge him to run. He refuses. He is a knight. (Only those of noble birth can become knights; but Will points out in the beginning that many became noble by taking the title at the point of a sword).
Adhemar visits Will in jail, declaring “you have been weighed; you have been measured; and you have been found wanting.” Will is put in the stocks the next day; his friends stand alongside him. The crowd easily turns on their champion; earlier chanting his name, now throwing food. Prince Edward emerges from the crowd and declares that his own research has proven that William is descended from an ancient royal line; and as prince, his word is above contestation. He frees Will and knights him. William will face Adhemar.
Knowing he stands a chance of losing, Adhemar cheats and tips his lance. On the first pass, he embeds it in William’s shoulder. On the second pass, William drops his lance. Adhemar murmurs to his opponent, “in what world can you ever have beaten me? Such a place does not exist.” William can’t breathe and has his friends remove his armor. Neither can he hold a lance, they must strap it to his arm. To buy time, Chaucer has missed his introduction. “Here he is! One of your own! Born a stone’s throw from this very stadium and here before you now. The son, of John Thatcher…Sir William Thatcher!” Will’s father is in the stands; he heard that. He sits near Prince Edward. Revitalized, William unseats Adhemar. We pause, as the group tells Adhemar “you have been weighed; you have been measured; and you absolutely have been found wanting. Welcome to the new world.” The crowd goes nuts as the action picks back up. Edward kisses his wife. Jocelyn races down to see William, who dismounts and removes his gloves and such so they can share an epic kiss. The film closes as Chaucer decides he needs to write this tale down and we go to black on Shook Me All Night Long.
As I stated, it’s a fun movie. I like the music they feature for the most part. I understand some of the costuming choices; I believe one feature states that they were going for a rock ‘n’ roll look with the knights, since they held that sort of status in medieval times; a more modern fit pant, lots of leather. It’s the women’s costumes that drive me nuts. The exotic hair styles that you know could not have been done at that time. Sheer fabric on display, an Audrey Hepburn hat. Now, after being blown away by other films, the romance falls a bit flat. Will sees that Jocelyn is pretty and that’s why he loves her. Not because he sees her do anything particularly good or special. Jocelyn likes Will because he’s not like other nobles who have courted her.
We’ve come to the end of the series. I feel they rushed this series; maybe they were surprised how quick they would have to wrap things up. My one friend came back and asked me where the season was that they end up in modern times, since she had seen pictures of it everywhere (I can find them on Pintrest, maybe they’re on Tumblr; I’m not on Tumblr, I don’t know). Sadly, no, that’s not how this season ends. I feel that they should come back and do that season, or a movie at the very least.
Arthur’s Bane, begins the season in two parts. Three years have passed since Guinevere’s coronation. Arthur meets with his knights at the Round Table. Unfortunately, Gwaine and Percival are missing after an expedition. Morgana is suspected, even though they haven’t heard from her in the three years. Morgana is indeed behind the disappearances; she’s capturing men to work searching for the key to the knowledge of Arthur’s Bane, his downfall. Joined by Liam Cunningham whose character isn’t named until the second episode. (Since I’ve been wandering down the Game of Thrones path, when I saw his name in the opening credits I was surprised. I haven’t seen this season as often as the previous ones, so a lot of this was unfamiliar to me.) Arthur and his knights, and Merlin, go looking for their brethren. Merlin receives a vision that Arthur is in danger and even Gwen worries about Arthur going on the mission himself; he is Camelot’s king, he needs to be cautious. But Arthur is the type of king who will show his people he is not afraid of any task.
Sadly, Gwen’s new maid who is adorable with Merlin is also a traitor, for her father who is harboring Morgana. Her father (played by Liam Cunningham) ultimately rescues his daughter, but also dies in the aftermath. Morgana doesn’t seem particularly bothered, more concerned with the overarching search for Arthur’s destruction. Arthur is injured on their quest and he and Merlin are captured by Saxons, and a familiar looking young man. Mordred is back and now a young man (don’t think too hard on what ages they look). He shows Arthur and Merlin kindness even though Merlin does not trust him. Arthur saved his life as a child and he will repay that debt. Arthur and Merlin manage to escape and sneak into the castle where they find Percival.
Gwaine has been missing for a few days. An alien-looking being (really BBC? Let’s bring aliens into the mix) finds him and heals him after guards beat him. (And they’re all shirtless for no apparent reason. Again, does BBC really need to do this to attract viewers?) Percival starts gathering men and taking out the guards. Morgana comes across Arthur while Merlin is chasing after Aithusa. Mordred is with her and prevents her from killing Arthur. He recognizes that Morgana has gone a bit crazy; she has chosen hate. He has not. He carries Arthur to his knights. Merlin finds Gwaine and the creature. He is granted one question. Who is Arthur’s Bane? Himself.
Everyone is back in Camelot; Arthur knights Mordred. Merlin honestly likes Mordred, but doesn’t trust him. He asks why Mordred saved Arthur. “Because he’s right, the love that binds us is more important than the power we wield.” Merlin knows that for good or ill, the die is cast. Albion’s greatest trial has begun.
The Death Song of Uther Pendragon brings to light Arthur’s doubts whether he is being a good ruler. He does a lot of things his father wouldn’t approve of. He’s then gifted a chance to see his father again when he saves an old sorceress for a horrible death and no trial. And Uther is disappointed with his son. He knighted commoners, he married a commoner and not for an alliance for the kingdom. He feels that his son has failed to strengthen and protect the kingdom; he’s destroying Uther’s legacy. Meanwhile, we, along with Merlin, counsel Arthur that he is better than his father. His people love and respect him and his is a more wise and just ruler. But Uther’s spirit is released and haunts the castle. Percival is attacked. Gwen is almost killed. Merlin and Arthur set out to put Uther’s spirit back. Uther attacks Merlin and discovers that he has magic. Uther tries to warn Arthur, but Arthur sounds the horn dismissing the spirit before he is able.
Mithian’s kingdom is attacked, bringing her back to Camelot in Another’s Sorrow. It’s a ploy between Odin and Morgana. Morgana disguises herself as Mithian’s maidservant so Mithian will persuade Arthur to rescue her father. Merlin suspects the maid and discovers it is Morgana, but she knocks him out before he can warn Arthur. Arthur proceeds with the plan and walks into the trap. Merlin comes to, with magical aid from Gaius, in time to take Gawine and rescue Arthur. Arthur faces Odin and Merlin prevents his friend from killing the other king. There is a better way. Arthur asks for a truce; else, their blood feud will simply continue on. Odin accepts. And we start a trend this season of seeing Merlin injured more often. I think it’s good, because it shows that he is vulnerable and we like vulnerability in our heroes.
The Disir, the mouthpiece of the Triple Goddess, pass judgment on Arthur and find him lacking. He has persecuted sorcerers as a carryover from Uther. His fate is set; while Camelot flowers, already the seeds of its destruction are sown. Arthur argues he makes his own path, but he still wants to protect his people, so he appears before the Disir. He is not respectful the first appearance though and they attack. Mordred takes a spear meant for Arthur. Arthur now has a choice; to save Mordred, he must allow magic to be freely practiced in Camelot again. If not, Mordred dies. We can see Merlin struggle to advise his friend. Merlin desires for magic to return, for his sake and his people. But even Kilgarah warns him that Arthur’s fate is bound with Mordred. So Merlin tells Arthur there is no place for magic in Camelot, thereby sentencing Mordred to die. Yet when they return to Camelot, Mordred lives. This gets terribly confusing for Merlin; every step he takes toward not bring the future to pass actually helps it along.
Morgana kidnaps Gwen in The Dark Tower and tortures her in a way. She locks her former maidservant in a dark room with mandrake root, listening to screams, and seeing visions of people she loves. Elyan and Arthur mount a rescue attempt, though they are waylaid in a magical forest. Merlin trusts his magic and leads them out, but Elyan darts ahead to rescue his sister. An enchanted sword runs him through. At the very end of the episode, we see Gwen sneak out to visit Morgana. She now believes that only Morgana has her best interest at heart; after all, they were close friends for many years, they know each other best.
Gwen begins to work behind the scenes to help Morgana and bring down Camelot and kill her husband. Accidents begin to befall Arthur in A Lesson in Vengeance. (Yes, the stable hand is played by John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly in Game of Thrones. And due to when this season was filmed, he had already begun playing Sam. So we are correct to gasp, “Oh my gosh, it’s Sam!”) The stable hand Tyr Seward takes the fall and Gwen stabs him to prevent him from talking. Morgana gives Gwen a magical poison to slowly and painfully kill Arthur. She has no hesitation in giving it to Arthur; she plays her part as grieving wife well. Gwen next arranges for Merlin to take the fall; he’s close to Arthur and has access to cause him harm. Gaius helps Merlin out of the cell while Leon pledges the knights to follow Gwen who will succeed Arthur should he die. Merlin ages himself (we can see he is having a lot of fun in his Dragoon character). Only Merlin’s magic can save Arthur, but he doubts he has the strength for both the aging and the healing. Gaius informs his ward that the only one who doubts Merlin’s abilities is Merlin. Merlin cries when he thinks Arthur has died, but Arthur survives. Merlin sneaks back into his cell so he can be released the next day. Arthur never suspected Merlin. Well that’s good, but why didn’t the knights stand up for him? Gwen gets the credit when she finds a new suspect and pins the blame correctly on Morgana.
Arthur meets with potential allies in The Hollow Queen while Gwen arranges a distraction for Merlin. A “Druid” boy sneaks into Camelot and asks Merlin for help. He leads Merlin into a trap by Morgana (she and Gwen are just trying to get Arthur’s biggest defense away while Gwen arranges for Arthur’s assassination). She poisons Merlin and throws him into a ravine. The boy returns for Merlin; the young man had shown him kindness and helps Merlin heal. They make it back to Camelot just as the assassin sets up. The boy is killed helping Merlin. Gwen had fed Arthur the tale that Merlin was sneaking off to see a girl when Arthur began to worry about Merlin. Now Gaius and Merlin know that Gwen is working against them.
They come up with a solution in With All My Heart. Merlin helps Arthur spy on Gwen when she meets with Morgana. They know it’s Morgana’s magic this time betraying Arthur. Which means it will take even more powerful magic to undo the spell. Merlin gets the solution off of an old sorceress and must lead Arthur to a magical lake and summon the White Goddess. Gwen must enter the lake of her own will. Arthur and Merlin sneak Gwen out of the castle, keeping her unconscious. Mordred follows them, which was a good thing because both Merlin and Arthur fall off a cliff and Arthur’s arm is pinned. Merlin has to transform into an old woman so as to not arouse suspicion (though Mordred does note that Merlin is missing at one point). The magic works and Dolma (Merlin in disguise) asks that Arthur remembers that magic can save, as well as hurt. “She” tells him off when they almost forget Merlin and tells Arthur “one day, he will recognize the true worth of those around him.” Mordred finally realizes that Merlin has magic, but promises to keep his secret. They share the dream of magic returning to Camelot.
Alator returns in The Kindness of Strangers; Morgana has hunted him down and tortures him to reveal Emrys’s identity. He refuses, but has recruited others to his cause. An old woman warns Merlin that the great battle is approaching. Mordred and the other knights give chase when they discover the old woman, since Gaius does not trust her. She is not in league with Morgana, but Morgana finds out about her, so she too is hunting for the woman. Merlin goes to help and is injured. The woman sacrifices herself to protect Merlin and he is not discovered. He hears the prophecy of Camlan and receives word that Morgana has declared war.
A familiar face for us pops up in The Drawing of the Dark. Alexandra Dowling (Roslin Frey in Game of Thrones and Queen Anne of Austria in Musketeers) is Kara, an old friend [and love interest] of Mordred’s. She’s injured and Mordred tends to her in the woods. Merlin finds out, but Mordred swears him to secrecy. Arthur and Merlin discover Kara themselves, even after Merlin tries to lure Arthur away. Kara attacks Arthur and is arrested. She proudly defies the king; “I will not rest until you are dead and your kingdom is no more.” Mordred pleads for her life, but she shows no repentance. Arthur cannot risk her being free. Merlin even pleads on Mordred’s behalf, but Arthur believes Mordred will see that Arthur had no choice and eventually forgive him. Merlin suspects that Mordred will try to free Kara, Mordred throws in Merlin’s face, “wouldn’t you do the same for a woman you love?” We know that Merlin tried, but Arthur killed Freya when she attacked Camelot. And Merlin forgave Arthur and serves him faithfully to this day. Merlin does not tell Mordred this (there is a fanfiction story Love Lost by Revhead where Merlin does tell Mordred and changes the story a little).
Mordred breaks Kara out, she kills a guard along the way, but they’re captured. Arthur offers her one last chance, but she will not change her ways. Mordred is in a cell when she is led to her execution. His magic breaks him out of his cell and he goes directly to Morgana. He has information for her, which will lead to Arthur’s death. He knows the identity of Emrys: Merlin.
The Diamond of the Day completes the season in two parts. Morgana sends a mook into Camelot to sneak into Merlin’s chambers, planting some sort of slug. It attacks Merlin’s face and somehow steals his magic. While that happens, Morgana and Mordred attack on outpost. Gwaine rescues a young woman and they make it back to Camelot to give word. Arthur decides to ride out and meet Morgana and her army on the field, to keep the fighting away from the people and other villages. The best place is Camlan, where the path narrows. Merlin sadly cannot accompany Arthur on this great battle; he must secretly journey to the Crystal Cave in an effort to restore his magic. But Gwaine’s new friend is a spy for Morgana, she passes along the information about Arthur and Mordred surmises where Merlin is heading. Morgana is waiting for the warlock and causes a cave in.
Merlin is injured and when he wakes, he sees his father. Balinor urges his son to not let go, don’t give in. Merlin is magic itself; he cannot lose what he is. Rest, he advises, believe in the crystals. When Merlin wakes again, he is healed and sees a secret path that Mordred plans to cut Arthur off with. Merlin warns Arthur in a dream, then bursts out of the cave.
Arthur misses having Merlin with him; the man who has stood beside him in every other instance is now gone for this vital confrontation. Gwen has accompanied him, not to fight, though she will help behind the scenes, but so they can spend what time they have together. She knows there is a good chance that Arthur may not return from this battle. Arthur receives Merlin’s message (Gwen has already begun to suspect there is more to Merlin that appears) and sets the camp to business. Percival and Gwaine will meet the band coming around behind. Arthur rallies his troops; fight for a united kingdom, fight against tyranny. The battle has begun.
Aithusa spews fire on Arthur’s troop, but a sorcerer (an aged Merlin, his true Emrys form) calls him off, then directs lightning on the Saxons, saving Arthur. He knocks Morgana down. Mordred hunts down Arthur on the field and stabs him with a blade forged on Aithusa’s breath. Arthur kills Mordred. Merlin finds Arthur on the field, bypassing Mordred, and carries him off.
When Arthur wakes, Merlin is back to his normal form. Merlin apologizes to his friend; he thought he was in time to defy the prophecy. Arthur doesn’t know what Merlin is talking about. Merlin reveals he was the sorcerer.
Arthur…doesn’t take it well. He responds to Gaius, when the old man finds them, but shies away from Merlin. They need to get word back to Guinevere in Camelot. Leon is giving her updates; but they have not found Arthur. Gaius tells Arthur that Merlin is his friend; he needs him far more than he needs Gaius. The wound is fatal, due to the blade. The only place Arthur could heal is the Isle of Avalon. Gaius can take the royal seal to Gwen.
Back in Camelot, they realize that truth of Gwaine’s traitorous female friend. She is executed, after passing along misinformation to Morgana. Percival and Gwaine set out to take down Morgana. Sadly, she bests them, knocking out Percival, then torturing Gwaine. Percival frees himself in time to watch his friend die. And so starts the “how many stabs does it take to kill Morgana?” Gwen confronts Gaius about the truth of Merlin. She seems pleased and knows that Merlin will care for Arthur.
Merlin continues to care for Arthur, confusing the man. Arthur slowly comes around to the fact that his manservant has had magic all along, but it still takes time for him to get over the fact that Merlin lied about it the whole time he knew Arthur. Merlin insists, it has always been to help Arthur; he is proud of what he has done and he wouldn’t change a thing. Arthur finally apologizes for the way he has treated Merlin. Morgana finds them just as the reach the shore of the lake. Merlin faces her and stabs her with Excalibur. That does her in. He has brought peace at last to Albion. But Arthur is fading fast. “It’s too late,” he tells the young warlock and asks his friend to hold him in his final moments, and says what he has never said before: “Thank you.” We cry alongside Merlin.
Merlin calls Kilgarah one last time to carry them to the Isle. But it is too late, the dragon tells his young friend. Fear not, he has not failed. All that he has dreamt has come to pass. “I can’t lose him! He’s my friend!” Merlin cries. Some lives are foretold, Kilgarah counsels. Arthur is the Once and Future King. When Albion’s need is greatest, Arthur will rise again. Merlin throws Excalibur into the lake, caught by a hand. Again, we cry alongside Merlin as he lays Arthur to rest in a boat and sends it to Avalon. Gwen is crowned queen; Leon, Gaius, and Percival are alongside her in Camelot. The parting shot of the show is a truck passing the tower on the Isle of Avalon and an old man, Emrys, walks along the side of the road.
Gosh, the last two episodes hurt. Part of me expected, hoped, that it would turn out different than legend, that Arthur and Merlin would work together and see the fruits of their labors. There is a chance that Gwen was carrying Arthur’s child at the end, maybe the writers threw in her accompanying Arthur to the camp in order for that to be a possibility. I have no doubt she made a just and wise ruler, but it’s not the same as if Arthur would have been around. Yes, it’s a deviation from legend, but I prefer a happy ending where heroes get some peace and quiet and rewards. You make us love these characters and then you separate them. We have no idea if Merlin even returned to Camelot, or just stayed away. (Check out fanfics, we’ve got lots of ideas. And fixes!)
Heck, I was even beginning to hope that Mordred would turn out alright. Again, doesn’t follow legend, though I like how they wrote around the incest nature of Mordred. And Merlin’s reveal has so little time to sink in. (Again, check out fanfics!) I would have preferred at least another season to the show. Again, I think they were surprised at when they had to wrap and had to bring about so much to end it, it all ended up rushed. Did not like Gwen’s storyline for several episodes. You’ve already done the “Gwen is a threat to Camelot.” They keep her a good character since none of it is her actual fault, she’s always influenced by Morgana. Still haven’t gotten over her turn and sudden descent into madness. “Oh, I’m a witch, so I must turn evil.” I don’t buy it. Never bought that mentality. (That is why my female characters who have magical powers are good. Well, they fight bad ones, but they’re still good after wielding phenomenal power).
I still like the show and I love the portrayal of characters, most specifically the relationship between Arthur and Merlin. Banter is my favorite. Yes, they insult each other, but they genuinely care for each other and they see that, even though they don’t say it (until the end and that makes us cry). I just wish it had ended different. Please, BBC, do a movie!
Next Time: Continuing a bit with fantasy type movies, Knight’s Tale (Well, it fits with the medieval setting).
My apologies that I forgot to post this last week.
We come back to Camelot a year after the ending of season two with the two-parter Tears of Uther Pendragon; Morgana has been missing a year. Uther refuses to give up on finding her. She wanders into a camp that Arthur and Merlin are investigating. And for a moment everything seems well. She’s happy to be home in Camelot, telling Uther she’s seen the evil he’s fighting and promises to be a better ward. She puts Merlin’s mind at ease over his worry that she’ll remember him poisoning her. Morgana forgives him; he was just trying to protect his friends. Then, the smirking starts. She rides out to meet Morgause, calling her “my sister.” Morgause has a spell that requires the tears of Uther, which Morgana has collected. They’re put into a cauldron along with a mandrake root, it emits a magical cry. Morgana is to tie the dripping root under Uther’s bed every night. It will twist his unconscious fear and make him lose his mind. Back in Camelot, the root takes effect; Uther starts seeing those who died at his hand, ghosts of the past haunting him.
Merlin stumbles upon the root, hiding under Uther’s bed and witnesses Morgana change it. He follows her and discovers her meeting Morgause. He’s subsequently captured, tied up, and left to die. Those creepy scorpions are back and sting Merlin. He cannot break the chains, even with magic. He calls Kilgarah and the dragon saves him. The dragon counsels the young warlock; the boys did what he thought was right, which takes courage. But his seeing goodness in people could be his undoing. Morgana is the darkness to Merlin’s light, the hatred to his love. Back in Camelot, Cenred’s army marches on the citadel (I equate it to Helm’s Deep). Morgause and Morgana are aligned with Cenred, Morgana their traitor on the inside. Merlin and Gwen show their support for Arthur, who has to take control while his father is incapacitated. Merlin tells his friend “it is your fate t be the greatest king Camelot has ever known…victory today will be remembered for every age until the end of time.” Gaius follows Morgana when she sneaks away and discovers that the young woman has raised an undead army. Merlin rushes down to stop her. Morgana makes the same mistake as Morgause and underestimates Merlin, not knowing he has magic. He triumphs and the skeletons collapse. Cenred leaves when that force fails.
Goblin’s Gold is a lighter story, after the dramatic start to the season. Merlin accidentally releases a goblin into the castle. When he tries to capture the devil, it flies into Gaius and overtakes him. He then plays tricks on the castle, at one point hilariously giving Arthur the ears and bray of a donkey. The goblin, as Gaius, frames Merlin for magic and he’s arrested. The young man escapes and takes refuge at Gwen’s home. They come up with the plan to temporarily kill Gaius to force the goblin out. Things get hairy when they have to scramble for the antidote, but everything is put to right. Arthur believed Merlin about the goblin and even laid a trap for Gaius; he knew that Gaius would never condone Merlin executed. It shows that he views his servant truly as a friend.
Gwaine is introduced in the episode named after him. He ends up helping Merlin and Arthur during a bar fight; he’s injured in the process, so they take him with back to Camelot for Gaius to heal. Merlin instantly befriends the young man. A melee is to take place in Camelot and two of the thugs from the tavern intend to kill Arthur for standing up to them, using magic blades that appear blunt but really aren’t, and crystals to disguise themselves as knights. As knights, they harass Merlin. He stumbles upon the truth and intends to get proof for Arthur. Gwaine helps and takes the blame. But Uther is firm in his knight’s code; a peasant cannot accuse a knight. Gwaine is banished from Camelot. Arthur tries to argue for his new friend, but Gwaine distrusts nobles (even though his father was one) and willingly leaves. During the melee, Merlin has no choice but to secretly use magic to protect Arthur. It ends up Arthur against the two thugs, though another knight steps into help. The thugs are killed and Gwaine is revealed. Uther holds to his decision to banish the man, even though that’s twice he’s saved his son.
The Crystal Cave recalls common elements of Arthurian legend. (The Crystal Cave is the first book in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian saga series). While Arthur and Merlin are out in the woods, they’re attacked and Arthur is injured. Merlin tries to use magic to heal when an old man appears; Taliesin. He heals Arthur then shows Merlin to the Crystal Cave, where magic began. Merlin is a powerful sorcerer and can use the crystals to see all of time. Merlin sees a future where Morgana stabs Uther. Back in Camelot, Gaius cautions that all may not be as it seems. But things start happening that Merlin saw in his vision. Arthur gives Morgana a dagger for her birthday, matching the one that Merlin saw, at Merlin’s inadvertent advice ironically. When Morgana sneaks off to see Morgause, Merlin follows and causes her to fall down a flight of stairs. She’s slowly dying. When Merlin can no longer stand watching everyone else’s grief, he goes out to call Kilgarah. The great dragon at first refuses to help save Morgana, but Merlin uses his power as Dragonlord to force the dragon. Merlin has also overheard Uther reveal to Gaius that Morgana is actually his daughter, begging the older man to use magic to save her. Gorlois was away fighting and Viviane had gotten lonely, he explains. No one can know, for Arthur’s sake. We see Morgana’s eyes move minutely. Later, after Morgana is healed, she tells Morgause. The older woman realizes that this gives Morgana a legitimate claim to the throne. Now they’ll redouble their efforts to kill Uther. Merlin’s vision proceeds, he’s stopped nothing. He races after Morgana who decides no time like the present to kill the king. She uses magic and accidently starts a fire and blows a window, waking Uther, but smoothly covers, cowering like a damsel in distress. Life is more complicated now; Arthur is all that stands between Morgana and the throne.
The Sidhe return in The Changeling, the hid a faerie in a baby princess and twenty years later, she’s old enough to wed Arthur in an effort to permanently bind the two kingdoms. This will put a Sidhe at the heart of Camelot (and that can’t be good). Her nurse, Grunhilda, is played by Professor Sprout from Harry Potter. Turns out, Grunhilda is a pixie, servant to the Sidhe. Arthur struggles with his love for Gwen, which Morgana has begun to notice. Uther insists that Arthur for the sake of the kingdom, his own feelings be damned. Arthur goes through with the proposal. Merlin slips Elena a potion to eject the faerie, killing it, Grunhilda, and the leader of the Sidhe. An instant effect takes on Elena; she’s more polished and prim, but still her personality (which is kind of awesome). She and Arthur stand in front of Camelot, prepared to take their vows, but come clean to each other that they don’t have feelings for the other. The wedding is called off and her father tells Uther that Arthur has the makings of a great king; times are changing. Merlin tells Arthur he knows what it’s like to have a destiny you cannot escape, for everything to be planned out and have no say.
Gwen is reunited with her brother, Elyan in The Castle of Fyrien. She is kidnapped by Cenred as a way to get Arthur. Cenred threatens Elyan if Gwen does not bring Arthur to him. She doesn’t want to tell Arthur, but Merlin convinces her that the best way to have help is to tell Arthur. Merlin, Gwen, and unfortunately Morgana ride out with Arthur to rescue Elyan. They’re caught, since Morgana is a traitor and Cenred plans to torture Arthur. The young people escape, grabbing Morgana in the process. Elyan is reported to have been away for four years and felt like he couldn’t come home, even when his father died.
Arthur takes on a quest in The Eye of the Phoenix to prove that he is worthy of the throne. He is to retrieve the trident from the Fisher King in the Perilous Realms. Legends state that the Fisher King was a powerful sorcerer and when he was wounded and it became infected, so did his land. But he’s supposedly still alive. Arthur is to undertake this quest alone and unaided. Merlin worries for Arthur, but the prince orders him to stay home. Then Merlin spots the bracelet Morgana gifts Arthur and its strange stone. Gaius uncovers that it is a phoenix’s eye and it will consume Arthur’s life force. Merlin races after Arthur, but stops for help; Gwaine. Arthur, steadily weakening, makes it to the bridge in the Perilous Lands, guarded by a dwarf (we recognize Warwick Davis, famed as Wicket from Return of the Jedi, Professor Flitwick and Griphook from Harry Potter and Nikabrik from Prince Caspian). He informs Arthur “you must be Courage,” he will need Strength and Magic to complete his quest. When Arthur dismisses magic, he warns the lad not to. Arthur almost drowns, due to the bracelet and Merlin and Gwaine come to the bridge, meeting the dwarf. Magic and Strength have arrived. Back in Camelot, Gwen reveals to Gaius that she suspects Morgana to have magic. Wyvern, an offshoot of dragons, almost eat Arthur in the Dark Tower, but Merlin’s there to save him. He’s separated from Arthur and Gwaine and speaks to the Fisher King. The king has been waiting for the right time. This was truly Merlin’s quest. The real prize is water from the lake of Avalon. When need is greatest, it will show Merlin what to do. In exchange, Merlin gives the king the cursed bracelet so he may be released to death.
An old friend of Gaius’s return in Love in the Time of Dragons. Alice was his fiancée years ago, right before the Purge. Gaius helped her escape, but stayed behind to not draw suspicion. Now she’s returned to Camelot with magical remedies, and a creature in a box: a manticore. Merlin hears them speaking one evening and doesn’t trust Alice. Gaius won’t hear it. Alice helps Gaius with his potions, including one for Uther. She drops poison in it one day and administers it to Uther. At that point, Gaius believes Arthur and they rid the world of the manticore. Uther blames Alice (Arthur figured out she was the one to give Uther is remedy) and sentences her to death. Gaius cannot plead with the king, but still manages to help his old love escape.
Morgana tries to split up Gwen and Arthur in Queen of Hearts when she has a vision of Gwen as queen. She gets the couple to spend alone time in the woods (it is a rather romantic picnic), then arranges for Uther to ride by them, catching the couple kissing. Uther orders Arthur to end the relationship, Arthur refuses. Morgana then plants an enchantment in Arthur’s room, so Gwen will be arrested as a witch. Merlin plans to invent a sorcerer to get Gwen freed; he’ll disguise himself as an old man, Dragoon the Great. That part works. The changing back doesn’t. He’s arrested and sentenced to be burned at the stake; though he gets a chance to tell Uther and Arthur off. Gaius works out a potion to change him back and Merlin escapes long enough to down it. This is the start of the running joke that if Arthur cannot find Merlin due to magical needs, people claim the young man is in the tavern. Gwen is free and the young couple’s feelings haven’t changed, but they cannot show it.
Another sorcerer comes to Camelot for a tournament in The Sorcerer’s Shadow. Ghillie (Harry Melling again [Dudley]) is tired of being bullied and uses magic to help in the tournament. Morgana has also pitted Uther and Arthur against each other (probably hoping that Uther will be killed in the tournament). When the two face each other, Arthur has to let his father win to save face. Then Uther has to face Ghillie in the finals. Merlin tries to get Ghillie to promise not to use magic, but Ghillie is enjoying the fame he’s gotten. He even shows the other man his powers; he understands how lonely it is to be more powerful than any man you know and live like a shadow. To be special and pretend to be a fool. Merlin has to make the choice; let Ghillie kill Uther, or protect Uther and harm another sorcerer. Kilgarah cautions that if Uther is killed by magic, it will harden Arthur’s mind. Thus, Merlin works against Ghillie. Uther spares the boy in the end (obviously not knowing about the magic). Uther reveals he knew what Arthur had done; he’s followed his son’s progress all along, but he’s grateful for the actions. Arthur is truly ready to be king.
Another two-parter ends the season, The Coming of Arthur. It opens on a scene of slaughtered knights, figures moving through them. They come to Sir Leon and heal him with a magical cup. Sir Leon returns to Camelot and reports that Cenred was responsible for the attack and it was the Druids who healed him. Gauis and Uther realize that the Druids have the Cup of Life, as Gauis informs Merlin, it was not destroyed on the Isle of the Blessed, it is eternal. Uther wants the cup and sends Arthur after it, for there is another legend attached to the cup; a warlord used it to create an immortal army. Camelot is in danger. Arthur doesn’t tell Merlin where they’re going but takes him anyway. Morgana overhears the plans and reports to Morgause, who instructs Cenred to be ready. But a slave trader captures Merlin and Arthur first. There, they’re reunited with Gwaine, whom Arthur has to face in a challenge. The boys try to throw the fight without appearing to do so, but Merlin causes a distraction that gets them out. The trio continue on the search and find the Druid camp. The Druids hand over the cup to Arthur, but really to Emrys. An attack from Cenred’s men injures Arthur and lets the cup fall into enemy hands. Morgause creates an immortal army, then kills Cenred and marches on Camelot. The trio does eventually make it back to Camelot to discover dead littering the streets from the attack, they discover Elyan and make their way into the castle. Arthur and Merlin go after Uther, the rest are to wait for them in the woods. Uther is being led into the great hall, facing Morgause. She takes his crown and Morgana steps out. She claims the throne, as daughter to Uther. Arthur is shocked by the news and he and Merlin withdraw.
The second part picks up a week after that ending; Merlin, Arthur, Gaius, Gwaine, and Elyan are hiding in the woods. Morgana is trying to persuade the knights of Camelot to her side, but they resist. She lines them up in front of a firing squad and instead shoots the crowd. Gwen plays along as a loyal servant, but plans to help Sir Leon escape; Leon will know where Arthur is hiding and he is the only hope Camelot has. Morgana and Morgause eavesdrop and figure they can use Gwen as a way to find Arthur, a simple tracking potion in a drink does the trick. Merlin uses the water from Avalon that the Fisher King gave him, revealing Freya. She tells him that only one weapon can slay the dead, a sword burnished by dragon fire, which lies in the lake. Kilgarah still serves Merlin and helps the young sorcerer retrieve the blade, but has him swear that when he is finished with the sword, he put it where no man can wield it. If the blood is emptied from the Cup of Life, the immortal army will fall.
Arthur and his companions are forced to retreat once Leon and Gwen finds them. They’re aided by Lancelot and a new man, Percival (Merlin had sent word to Lancelot), taking refuge in an abandoned castle from the time of the ancient kings. Inside, Arthur discovers a round table. He instructs his companions to sit and speaks of the old tradition of equality for all. Tomorrow, he will rescue his father, who is with him. Lancelot is the first to stand. These men believe in the world that Arthur will create. All join him; well, Merlin tries to stay seated as a joke, but he doesn’t have a choice. Arthur then does something he know his father would disapprove of, he knights Elyan, Lancelot, Gwaine, and Percival. Lancelot comments to Merlin that evening that the servant is the bravest of them and Arthur should really be knighting him, but doesn’t know. The men make their way back to Camelot, Lancelot planning to help Merlin destroy the Cup. Gaius enters the fray against Morgause after she flings Merlin, giving Merlin the chance to knock over the Cup. The immortal army explodes. Morgana enters to find an injured Morgause and screeches. Her magic is out of control, the walls start crumbling and they disappear.
A new time is dawning. Arthur may need to take charge; Uther is very distressed by the events with Morgana and her betrayal. Gaius tells Merlin, since no one else will, “Well done.” Merlin follows his promise and sticks the sword in a stone.
I liked the inclusion of more traditional elements of Arthurian legend, such as the Crystal Cave, but Merlin does run into the problem that often arises from prophecies; as Yoda has taught us, the future is always in motion. This is one possibly future and Merlin gets consumed by it. In trying to prevent that future from happening, he almost causes it. But he also doesn’t get the best instructions. Downfall of many fantasy wizards: I’m going to warn you about this but be very cryptic. Like the dragon. The Fisher King story was a nice inclusion as well and more and more Arthur is being shown that magic is not inherently evil, but circumstances always come about that he can’t trust it. Woo at seeing the knights of the Round Table, finally! Arthur is coming into his own now. Merlin still staunchly supports him, even behind the scenes. They’ve come a long way from wanting to kill each other.
Now, my Shide and Fae are not like the ones in this show, but it’s good to see differing views, so I can craft my own. Pick and choose which bits I like. As much as Morgause is the enemy, there is something I admire in the way she deals with Cenred, an attitude I hope to emulate in my characters: commanding, she does not outright threaten Cenred until the end. She pulls him along and I swear Cenred wants to sleep with her and she may even let him, knowing that ultimately she has the upper hand.