Merlin (1998) 




Director:  Steve Barron. 

Starring:  Sam Neill (Merlin), Helena Bonham Carter (Morgan Le Fey), Miranda Richardson (Mab, Queen of the Old Ways/The Lady of the Lake), John Gielgud (King Constant), Martin Short (Frik), Paul Curran (King Arthur Pendragon), Jason Done (Mordred), Rutger Hauer (King Vortigern), James Earl Jones (voice of the Mountain King), Isabella Rossellini (Princess Nimue), Mark Jax (King Uther Pendragon), Jeremy Sheffield (Sir Lancelot du Lac), Daniel Brocklebank (Young Merlin), Lena Headey (Queen Guinevere), John McEnery (Lord Ardente), Thomas Lockyer (Duke of Cornwall), April Mills (Ma' Lay), Billie Whitelaw ('Auntie' Ambrosia), Agnieszka Koson (Young Nimue), Emma Lewis (Elissa), Justin Girdler (Young Galahad), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Sir Boris), Nicholas Clay (Lord Leo), Sebastian Roch (Sir Gawain), Rachel de Thame (Lady Igraine), John Turner (Lord Lot), Keith Baxter (Sir Hector), Janine Eser (Lady Elaine), Peter Woodthorpe (Soothsayer), Robert Addie (Sir Gilbert ), Nickolas Grace (Sir Egbert), Peter Benson (First Architect), John Tordoff (New Architect), Timothy Bateson (Father Abbott), Alice Hamilton (Young Morgan Le Fey).

Merlin fights Queen Mab who tries to destroy Arthur to save the old ways before the coming of Christianity



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.


Merlin the Wizard tells the story of his life.  He begins with the coming of Christianity to Britain.  King Constant rules as Christianity arrives in Britain.  King Vortigern attacks King Constant and kills the king.  Civil war follows.  And then the Saxons arrive.  There was only one being who could save them and he would come out of the land of magic. The magical Queen Mab says that she is going to create a wizard to save the people and the old Druid ways that are being pushed out by the arrival of Christianity.

Queen Mab creates the leader.  A boy child is born as Queen Mab allows the mother to die.  Mab names the boy Merlin.  He is only half-human.  Mab gives the child to Ambrosia to take care of. 

When Merlin is older he sees the young Lady Nimue riding to her destination.  They talk and then she goes off on her own.  She gets trapped in a bog and starts sinking.  Merlin comes to the rescue.  He grabs a tree branch and for the first time is able to use his magic to make the too-short branch grow longer so that he can reach Lady Nimue.  He then pulls her out of the bog to safety. 

Ambrosia tells Merlin the truth about his birth.  She also tells him that Queen Mab will come for him.  One day Merlin comes home to Ambrosia to tell her that a horse has told him that he must go with him.  Merlin goes into a cave and a boatman takes him to Queen Mab.  The Queen says that Merlin will save the old ways.  He will bring the people back to the old ways.  Her assistant Frik tells her that Merlin does not like magic and wants to go home.  This disturbs the Queen but she insists that Merlin's training continue.  

The Lady of the Lake (sister of Queen Mab) talks with Merlin and tells him to go home because Ambrosia is very ill.  Queen Mab goes to Ambrosia's home to prepare for the arrival of Merlin.  Ambrosia displeases Queen Mab and she gives out a long, horrific shout which only makes Ambrosia more ill.  Merlin arrives home, but Ambrosia soon dies. 

Merlin tells Queen Mab that he will never help her, but she insists that he will help her because she will make him do so.  Merlin swears that he will only work against the Queen.  (Old man Merlin mentions that the Queen, however, found a way of making him break his oath.)

Prince Uther (son of King Constant) is in Normandy raising an army to kill King Vortigern.  King Vortigern tells Lord Ardente (whose daughter is Princess Nimue) that he will keep his daughter hostage to assure that he will remain allegiant to him.  King Vortigern tries to raise a new castle but it collapses.  The reason for the collapse is that the land is cursed.  Queen Mab arrives and tells the new architect that the castle can only be build if the mortar is mixed with the blood of a man who has no mortal father.  The man who fits the description is Merlin.  Merlin is brought to King Vortigern who starts to kill Merlin in order to mix his blood with the mortar.  But Merlin can be of value to the King because he has visions.  He tells Vortigern that he sees the Red Dragon conquer the white dragon.  (The flag of Vortigern has a white dragon on it.)

Prince Uther lands and marches on Winchester.  Vortigern throws Merlin into a jail cell.  Queen Mab comes to see King Vortigern.  He wants to know from her how he can defeat Uther.  The answer is to sacrifice Princess Nimue to the dragon.  (Vortigern learns that Lord Ardente has defected and gone over to join Prince Uther.)  They tie the princess to a tree and Merlin to another tree where he can watch the dragon consume Princess Nimue.  The dragon's hot fire breath burns Princess Nimue's face.  Merlin is able to pull up from the ground the tree to which he is tied.  He then hits the dragon with it.  Merlin then stops the dragon completely by creating a water fall that in turn creates a giant mud hole under the dragon.  Then vines grow out of the mud and completely entwine the dragon keeping him tied down to the mud hole. 

Merlin takes Princess Nimue to Avalon where the nuns save the Princess (but her face is terribly scarred by the fire).  Merlin goes looking for Queen Mab.  He talks with the Lady of the Lake and tells her that he needs her help in defeating King Vortigern.  She gives him the magical sword Excalibur, the sword of justice. 

Merlin goes to talk with Prince Uther and the lords.  The lords tell Merlin that they are Christians and do not believe in Merlin and his magic. But Merlin tells the Prince that he can help him.  He tells Uther to meet King Vortigern on the lake of the Lady of the Lake and crush him.  In the battle Vortigern kills Lord Ardente, but then Merlin kills Vortigern by opening the ice beneath Vortigern's feet, letting him fall into the water and then closing the ice over him.  Merlin gives Excalibur to Uther saying:  "It can only be used by a good man in a good cause."  (Narrator old man Merlin says that "Uther turned out not to be a good man.")

Uther covets the beautiful Lady Igraine, wife of the Duke of Cornwall.  Merlin tells Uther that he cannot have the woman because she is married and has a child, a not very attractive girl named Morgan.  Since Uther will not be deterred, Merlin tricks him into letting him see Excalibur and he then thrusts it into a rock where no one is able to extract it.  Uther sets up a siege of the Cornwall castle that lasts three months.  While Uther continues the siege, his kingdom starts falling apart.  Merlin can't bear to see the kingdom fall apart and agrees to help Uther.  He makes Uther look like the husband of Lady Igraine.  In return Uther will give Merlin his first son by Lady Igraine.  When the Duke of Cornwall heads out to fight Uther's army, Uther heads to Lady Igraine in the castle.  He is able to have sex with her (even though Morgan realized that the man was not her father).  In battle the real Cornwall is killed. 

Nine months later Lady Igraine gives birth to a son.  Merlin gives the son, named Arthur, to Sir Hector to raise.  King Uther goes mad and kills himself.  Arthur grows up to be a fine young man.  Merlin is very reluctant to tell Arthur of his own role in Arthur's birth.  Merlin takes Arthur with him saying "Let's go make you king."  They are attacked by curious-looking hawk-dogs, but Merlin chases them away with the help of a hornet's nest.  Merlin finally tells Arthur that Sir Hector is not his real father.  His biological father was King Uther, which make Arthur the true heir to Uther's crown.  Arthur takes Excalibur out of the rock and most of the lords accept him as their king.

Frik uses magic to turn Morgan, Arthur's half-sister, into a pretty young woman.  It is foretold that she will have a son by her half-brother Arthur. 

Arthur is set to fight the lord who did not accept him as king.  Arthur rides up the hill to speak with the old leader.  He gives the man Excalibur and tells him to kill him.  The old man raises up the sword to strike Arthur but his arm is stayed by some unknown source.  The dissident leader accepts Arthur as the rightful king. 

Morgan comes to see Arthur under the pretext of being Lady Marie, Queen of the border Celts.  She says that she has come to pay homage to the new king.    Merlin has a premonition of what will happen and rides to stop it.  During the night Arthur and Morgan have sex.  Merlin arrives too late, but he does tell Arthur that he just had sex with his half-sister.  He also tells Arthur that there will be a son, a man who will destroy them. 

Arthur marries Guinevere.  He then makes plans to search for the Holy Grail, the drinking cup used by Jesus at the last supper.  The enemy, Morgan and Mordred her son, are left behind.  Merlin talks with Lady of the Lake and tells her that he needs a temporary ruler that will keep order in the kingdom while Arthur is away looking for the Holy Grail.  The man must be pure in heart.  The Lady of the Lake tells him to take her boat and travel to the other side of the lake where he will find his man. 

Merlin lands on the other side of the lake and is met by Galahad, the son of Lady Elaine and Sir Lancelot.   Galahad takes him to meet his parents and Merlin decides on Lancelot as the leader.  Lancelot and Merlin return to Camelot.  The men joust with each other to decide who will be ruler while Arthur is gone.  Lancelot wins the contest, but he is wounded.  The tip of a lance broke off in his shoulder.  Guinevere is impressed by Lancelot's performance and visits him in the hospital.  Arthur arrives and pulls out the tip of the lance from Lancelot's shoulder.  Arthur leaves in search of the Holy Grail.

The years roll on.  Mordred grows up into a nasty young man with great magical powers and a fondness for Aunt Mab. 

Merlin warns Guinevere that she is too friendly with Lancelot.  His words fall on death ears,however, for Guinevere and Lancelot soon begin an affair.  In her mirror, Queen Mab shows Lady Elaine an image of Lancelot and Guinevere together.  Merlin stomps into Guinevere's room to say:  "I warned you."  Lady Elaine has died of a broken heart over the news of her husband's adultery. 

Queen Mab starts to take Mordred with her and away from Morgan.  Morgan tries to stop her and Queen Mab kills her by making her trip on the outside stairs and watching her fall to her death.  Frik is furious with Mab for this and Mab is mad at Frik for not being completely loyal to her.  So Mab takes Frik's magical powers away from him and makes him take a place in the world of mortal humans. 

While Arthur is away, Lancelot builds the new fortress at Camelot.  Arthur returns to find the new fortress completed.  But he is puzzled when the place seems deserted.  He finally finds his wife and the lords and demands to know what is going on.  Mordred arrives to tell Arthur that he is the king's son.  He also tells his father that his wife has committed adultery with Lancelot.  Arthur is stunned but he does not want to enforce the death sentence on Guinevere for treason.  But Mordred insists that Arthur uphold the law.  Arthur tells Mordred that he wants him out of Camelot.  Mordred does leave, but says that he will destroy Arthur. 

Princess Nimue wants to be with Merlin so badly that she makes a deal with Queen Mab.  In exchange for the removal of her facial scars, she agrees to live with Merlin wherever Queen Mab decides to send them. 

Together with Merlin, Lancelot saves Guinevere from being burned at the stake for treason.  They flee together.  Arthur is glad that they escaped.  Mordred accuses Arthur of letting Guinevere go, saying "There is one law for you, another for the rest of us."   He rallies a number of lords to his talk of freedom, right and justice. 

Father Abbott arrives from Avalon to tell Merlin that Princess Nimue waits for him at the Gate of Magic.  Merlin leaves Camelot to be with the princess. 

The day of the big battle between Arthur and Mordred arrives.  In the battle Arthur is able to get the better of Mordred.  Through trickery Mordred stabs Arthur with a knife and Arthur slays his son.  Queen Mab screams for Mordred. 

Merlin leaves Nimue to go see Arthur.  Queen Mab closes the cave entrance after he leaves.  Before dying, Arthur tells Merlin to throw Excalibur into the lake of the Lady of the Lake.  Merlin throws Excalibur into the lake.  He tells the Lady of the Lake: "You lied to me."   She told him that Lancelot would be the man who was pure of heart.  The Lady of the Lake responds that she did not lie.  It was not Lancelot, but Galahad, that he sought.  Merlin had chosen the wrong person.  The Lady of the Lake takes her leave as she tells Merlin that since now she will be forgotten she will disappear. 

Frik teams up with Merlin for the final battle against Queen Mab.  Merlin tells Queen Mab that "I'm just going to forget you."  He, Frik and the lords turn their backs to Queen Mab and she starts slowly to disappear. 

Old man Merlin comments that he has lost everyone he had loved and who had loved him.  Things, however, improved when Galahad arrived with the Holy Grail in hand. 

Back to the present.  Old man Merlin finishes his story.  The last man left in the audience is Frik.  He tells Merlin that he has talked with Nimue.  Merlin cannot believe that she is still alive.  Merlin goes to see Nimue and they reunite.  He says that he has one last piece of magic to perform and Merlin makes both himself and Nimue look young once again. 


Good movie.  A bit long  -- about three hours.  Being a person primarily interested in history and not legend, I did not like the movie that much, but my wife thought it was pretty good.  The problem is that we know so little about Arthur.  And so legend is used to tell a fictional story about a great king of Britain.  The kids would probably get a kick out of the movie precisely because of the legendary antics in old Britain.  There are a lot of special effects that the kids would also like. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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