“Many men say written upon his tomb, Here lies Arthur the Once and Future King.” — From Sir Thomas Mallory’s book Le Morte d’ Arthur
My eyes glazed over and I wondered how The History Channel — a network that generally has interesting programming — could release such a muddled medieval mess. Whether Arthur was a fictional character created during the bleak Dark Ages, or a composite of real life heroes of the day, this stuff should be fascinating. But the problem with King Arthur and Medieval Britain is the fact that it’s a compilation of five episodes that aired on The History Channel and A&E between 1994 and 2004, so there’s a lot of redundancy.
This set seems to have been thrown together thoughtlessly, with no regard for the quality or content. King Arthur and Medieval Britain could’ve easily been paired down to two hours, eliminating the overlapping historical facts. In each episode, experts discuss how the King Arthur legend began and attempt to answer the age old question: Was Arthur a real human being or not? The answer: well, there is no definitive answer, only speculation…over five hours worth. There are also way too many circuitous routes that lead from one expert theory to the next, and I had to rewind several times in order to make sense of it all. One expert states, “The path is never straight or clear, when trying to find the truth about Arthur.” Here the path is obliterated by a blizzard of information, thrown at us without clearing up the confusion between what is real and what is myth.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of fun facts bandied about — like the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere was an addition to the legend by French poet Chretien de Troyes in the 12th century; and the fact that Sir Thomas Mallory wrote the first English account of the Arthurian legend and that Arthur may have been modeled after a Roman commander named Artorius Castus. But after 315 minutes of these details being told over and over, the expert’s voices began to sound an awful lot like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. By far the best of the five installments are narrated by Leonard Nimoy, whose golden pipes makes listening to this overabundance of information a more soothing experience.
King Arthur and Medieval Britain contains the following episodes:
* Quest for King Arthur (2004) — Narrated by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation), this one meanders way too much and is the most confusing of the lot; should’ve been at least a half an hour shorter.
* King Arthur: His Life and Legends (1995) — Narrated by Mike Grady (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and John Shrapnel (Elizabeth: The Golden Age), this focuses solely on the legend of Arthur and where the story originated, regardless of whether or not he really existed.
* Ancient Mysteries: Camelot (1995) — Narrated by Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek: The Original Series), this was the best of the bunch and far easier to follow. Nimoy’s voice is perfectly suited for narration.
* Knights and Armor (1994) — Narrated by Edward Herrmann (Gilmore Girls), this is another episode that wanders aimlessly and does nothing new with the same facts I heard in the three previous episodes.
* Quest for the Holy Grail (1997) — Narrated once again by Leonard Nimoy, whose voice does make it easier to sit through this most pointless of episodes. A whole hour focused on a goblet that may not have ever existed? Really?! The Holy Grail was discussed earlier and didn’t need a stand alone episode.
The History Channel is famous for its in-depth programs on an array of subjects ranging from The Revolutionary War to Adolph Hitler. With King Arthur and Medieval Britain they missed the mark. Hopefully they’ll use their mulligan and release a more cohesive account of Arthurian legend, because medieval times and the tales of ancient knights are a captivating part of our past, even if it’s only historical fiction. This just isn’t good enough to warrant a purchase by even the most ardent Anglophile.
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame with a Dolby 2.0 Stereo track, the visuals looks grainy and washed out while the audio is a bit muted. Some of the episodes are 17 year old cable television programs, and this obviously wasn’t remastered in any way, shape, or form. But hey, the jacket cover looks great! There are no extras. Then again, King Arthur and Medieval Britain is pretty much one long behind-the-scenes featurette.
Forgive me your Liege, but thou must find thee Guilty.
King Arthur and Medieval Britain (DVD)
2012, History Channel, 315 minutes, NR (1994)
VIDEO: Full Frame AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English) SUBTITLES: None
EXTRAS: None ACCOMPLICES: IMDB
Running Time: 315 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: Quest for King Arthur
* IMDb: Ancient Mysteries: Camelot