Lancelot comes to Arthur’s court.
Of all the episodes of The Once and Future King so far, this is the one that resonates far beyond its courtly trappings. A new arrival threatens a marriage which has lost its lustre, with the wife seeing beyond the less than Adonis-like features of the interloper and falling in love with the man beneath. He resists temptation for a long time, but when circumstances bring them together, his love and respect for her husband are subsumed to their passion – and when the husband has to go away on business, he believes that he is leaving his wife in exactly the right hands, since surely she could have no interest in someone like his friend… could she? Sure, in White’s version, there is magic involved and there’s the added wrinkle of Lancelot being tricked into losing his virginity and making the girl involved pregnant, but it’s a tale of cuckoldry that feels timeless.
For obvious reasons, many of the scenes in this part of the tale don’t involve Merlyn and Arthur, which might be a bit of a problem for an adaptation that is structured around the two men looking back over events. Dramatist Brian Sibley neatly sidesteps this, and for much of the time you’re so caught up in the drama that you don’t really question how either knows this, although Merlyn’s magic can be a useful catch-all!
David Warner and Paul Ready take more of a back seat in this, allowing Lyndsey Marshal’s excellent Guenever and Alex Waldmann’s Lancelot into the spotlight and there are some nice cameos from Jane Slavin as Morgana and Bettrys Jones as Nimue. Sam Dale gives a solid performance as Uncle Dap, while Hannah Genesius captures Elaine’s hesitancy and puppy-eyed devotion.
There’s still a lot of this book’s content to be mined, but the seeds of Arthur and his dream’s downfall are sown here, and between this and Mordred, we start to see where things are going wrong.
Verdict: Well-played and directed, this is strong human drama. 8/10