BBC1’s new ambitious fantasy-drama excels expectation.
This review contains spoilers! Don’t read if you haven’t seen episode one or don’t want the plot spoiled.
BBC’s new Saturday night Merlin replacement comes in the form of all action-drama Atlantis. If, like me, you were an avid watcher of Merlin or are a fan of the Greek myths and legends and the many films that have portrayed them over the years, there may have been some trepidation. I was interested, yet cautious following my excitement and then huge disappointment of Sky 1’s Sinbad attempt. However, any doubts soon faded away, and you can rest assured not only does the team of creators behind Merlin, executive producers Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps and Misfits showrunner Howard Overman who has written the series, live up to their previous hit series, it exceeds them.
The story begins with our hero Jason played by newcomer Jack Donnelly, who goes in search of his missing father who disappeared in a sub in the ocean. Upon journeying into the sea to find out his father’s fate, Jason gets pulled into the mysterious world of Atlantis and discovers not only was he born there, his father took him to our world to protect him from the many enemies who would wish to harm him. Jason learns from the soothsaying Oracle (Juliet Stevenson) his father has died, but he was drawn to Atlantis as he has a destiny to fulfil, saying, “Only you can bring an end to the peoples fear and suffering”.
Unluckily for Jason he happens to arrive at the time when seven people must be sacrificed to the Earth Bull to appease the gods. Pythagoras (you know, the Maths triangle guy) a clumsy genius with a kind heart is selected, but Jason decides to take his place feeling he owes him his life after taking him in and hiding him from the guards and giving him somewhere to stay. Meanwhile Mark Addy plays his usual wise-cracking side-kick role as Hercules, who initially isn’t that interested in the newcomer until he sees Jason may bring him fame and fortune. Addy may have seemed a safe bet for the casting department but to me he doesn’t fit the role of Hercules. Not because of his stature but because instead of bringing humour he brings irritation and tedium to the part.
Hercules aside, Atlantis has got off to a flying start with an impressive opening episode that delivers action, fantasy, mythical creatures, enemies and a set of characters that are likeable and intriguing enough to interest audiences enough to provide something for everyone. If you’re a purist about the myths and legends you may need to leave your beliefs at the door as its pretty clear that authenticity (if you can call a myth that) makes way for dramatic license, but regardless the investment to make this as believable in terms of commitment to telling an enjoyable story is faultless.
Jason and Ariadne will not doubt be the eye candy, although not to dismiss the deserved credit to Donnelly who has taken on quite a feat in leading a big BBC production in a prime-time Saturday slot in his first major acting role. Meanwhile Sarah Parish as Pasiphae is already looking to be a fearful nemesis to our hero and the potential romance between her daughter and Jason.
It may be too early to say the success of Atlantis and I shall be paying close attention to how the writers portray it’s female characters which was my only gripe with Merlin. Jemima Rooper is sure to bring comedy and an interesting dynamic to the group when she appears in next week’s episode.
So far the future of Atlantis looks bright and the drowning sea waters far away.