Science fiction and fantasy
directed by Steve Barron
But the young Merlin (Daniel Brocklebank) soon realises that Mab has a cruel nature. She has her assistant, Frik (Martin Short), instruct him in magic, but Merlin vows not to use his powers unless it's to defeat Mab.
However Merlin has the misfortune to fall in love, which is bad news for his beloved Nimue (Isabella Rossellini). Mab is in the habit of using other people in an attempt to blackmail Merlin into doing as she tells him to. Meanwhile Vortigern (Rutger Hauer) is at war with Uther Pendragon (Mark Jax). Merlin sees Vortigern as a tyrant and decides to offer Uther his help. One of the strengths of this movie is the way it includes so many aspects of the traditional Arthurian legend, from the Lady in the Lake (also played by Miranda Richardson) to the story about the castle that won't stay up.
This film emphasises the weakness of the human heart, and there's always some corruption or some betrayal in the making. Merlin is on a quest to find the perfect king, and it's almost as though he's doomed to fail because in every champion there's some kind of fatal flaw. He's surrounded by vain and imperfect characters, and some of them seem to be consumed by the desire for beauty and power, not least of all Morgan Le Fay (Helena Bonham Carter).
In spite of some dated effects, Merlin has a lot of visual appeal. This is partly because the characters, particularly the bad guys, tend to go all out for showy and elaborate costumes. Mordred (Jason Done) goes to battle in a helm that would be extremely impractical to fight in, but it makes him look fierce, and that's what matters in this movie.
Merlin has a misty-eyed, melodramatic tone that's lightened by the frivolity of all the fantasy elements. Frik and Morgan Le Fay are particularly silly, and they prevent this movie from getting bogged down in misery. So this film falls part-way between comedy and tragedy, not quite attaining the best of either genre, but it's an enjoyable take of the story of Arthur and Merlin nonetheless.
If you like this, try:King Maker by Maurice Broaddus
In an Indianapolis ghetto only an Arthurian-style hero can save the neighbourhood.
Excalibur by John Boorman
The story of King Arthur and the knights of the round table gets an epic treatment in this movie adaptation.
Merlin the Sorcerer by William P. Burch
An archaeologist literally journeys to the Arthurian past in this time travel adventure.