Monday, 28 July 2008

BBC hopes Merlin magic can rival Doctor Who

by Catherine Mary Evans, Western Mail

AN ALL-STAR drama based around one of Wales’ oldest legends will become the BBC’s latest attempt to rival the prime-time success of Doctor Who.
Merlin, which is currently being filmed in Wales and France for BBC1, is set in the mythical town of Camelot and follows the fabled friendship between the young wizard Merlin and Prince Arthur.
The 13-part family drama series, due to hit our screens in September, is set in a time before Arthur becomes king, as Merlin comes to terms with his magical powers.
Newcomer Colin Morgan, 22, from Northern Ireland, takes the lead role as Merlin. His previous television experience is limited to guest roles on Doctor Who and the Catherine Tate Show. However, he has made a name for himself in the West End with critically acclaimed roles in Vernon God Little and All About My Mother.
Morgan is joined by rising star Bradley James, who plays the young Arthur Pendragon, long before he took the sword from the stone and became King. James, 23, has previously appeared in an episode of ITV's detective drama Lewis.
Up-and-coming actress Angel Coulby, who has also appeared in Doctor Who and ITV police drama Vincent, stars as Guinevere.
The young performers’ acting skills will be put to the test alongside acting heavyweights such as veteran John Hurt and ex-EastEnder Michelle Ryan.
Bafta-winner Hurt will provide the voice of the young Merlin's mentor, the Great Dragon, while Bionic Womanstar Ryan will play wicked sorceress Nimueh. The role will be Ryan's first part since Bionic Woman, which was dropped following disappointing ratings in the US. Ryan has also been signed up to star in ITV1's new romantic comedy Mr Eleven, although this is not expected to air until late autumn.
BBC Wales’ head of drama Julie Gardner, also an executive producer on Doctor Who, said: “In this new version, Merlin and Arthur are young contemporaries for the first time ever, bringing a much loved tale to a whole new generation with a fresh, youthful new look and approach for Saturday nights.”
“John Hurt plays Merlin’s mythological mentor and the only dragon left with magic powers. It is an absolute privilege to be working with him.”
Heroes star Santiago Cabrera, who played Isaac Mendez in the hit US drama, will take the role of Lancelot.
One Foot in the Grave’s Richard Wilson and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Anthony Head take on the roles of court physician Gaius and Arthur’s father King Uther Pendragon respectively.
Guest stars include Eve Myles, Will Mellor, and Green Wing’s Julian Rhind-Tutt.
BBC bosses hope the tale will appeal to young and old audiences alike, and will fill the hole left by David Tennant’s absence in Doctor Who, which occupies a similar Saturday night slot in the schedules.
Merlin, which is being made by production company Shine – the International Emmy Award-winning production team behind Hex and Sugar Rush – through BBC Wales, will be broadcast from September in the Saturday 7pm slot previously filled by Doctor Who and Robin Hood.
Johnny Capps of Shine Television said: “We have a wonderful cast and fantastic locations, which we hope will bring alive the magic and myth of Camelot for a new audience.”
The series has already been sold to a number of international broadcasters by distributor FremantleMedia Enterprises, including NBC in the US and CTV in Canada.