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The Mists of Avalon

New Age revival of an age-old story

By Steve Fritz     July 14, 2001


TNT's miniseries of The Mists of Avalon based on the book by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
© 2001 TNT

It seems that in today's day-and-age, you can't go anywhere without being touched by the "Celtic Revival." RIVERDANCE is always presenting its "last performance" on Broadway and all of the elevators now play Enja and Loreena McKennit. New Age mysticism seems to have that Druid flavor of the moment.



But I'm here to tell you it can get really boring really fast. Case in point, the TNT original movie THE MISTS OF AVALON.



Rating the New Age treatment of Marion Zimmer Bradley's take on the Arthurian legend, THE MISTS OF AVALON comes across as almost a fumble. If it didn't have it's A-list cast, the telemovie would have been about as exciting as a bad soap opera.



Of course, the major selling point for MISTS is that its story is told from the "woman's point of view." It recreates the tale of the Knights of the Round Table from the perspective of Morgaine (Julianna Marguiles), whom most people know as Morgan Le Fey or Morgana, half-sister to King Arthur, mother to his only child, Mordred, and the witch who's backroom politics helped bring down Camelot and Britain's Golden Age of chivalry.



Julianna Margulies and Anjelica Huston in THE MISTS OF AVALON

Played by Marguiles, Morgaine starts off the telefilm much like her mother, Igraine (Caroline Goodall), a victim of her very powerful aunts -- the elder of which, Viviane (Anjelica Huston), is not only the Lady of the Lake, but is also the "never explained" mother of Sir Lancelot. She is also a rather evil woman whose actions speak much louder than words. For example, she has Igraine's husband murdered, dupes her into marrying Uther Pendragon with whom conceives a son (Arthur) whom she then tricks into having a wild night with his half-sister, Morgaine. Oh, yeah. She's bad.



When Morgaine discovers the depths and depravity of Morgause's scheming she rebels. Still, the deed has been done and the seeds that will eventually become Mordred, Arthur's bane, are planted.



The third aunt, Morgause (Joan Allen) -- who is not all too cheery herself -- breaks from the trio of sisters because she is intentionally left out of Viviane's power-play.



Edward Atterton as Arthur in The Mists of Avalon.

In reviewing the plot synopsis, it would have been very easy for director Uli Edel to turn this entire affair into a very sensationalistic soap opera. However, he counters this easy way out by slowing the pace down into a New Age dirge. Sure, there are moments when the camera takes a wide angle shot, providing the audience with some pure moments of visual rapture. However, there are also moments when you wish you can grab your remote and hit the fast forward button. The dialogue gets very prosy at the drop of a hat. Moment like those makes the three-part, six-hour DUNE miniseries seem sharp and crisp in comparison.



In fact, it seems almost ironic that the core stories behind both DUNE and MISTS deal with engineered breeding programs. However, there are two major differences between them. The first deals with the setting. DUNE dealt with royalty set 30,000 or so years into the future. MISTS, on the other hand, deals with royalty from about 1,300 years in the past. The second difference deals with each project's sense of direction. In DUNE, the program managed to keep a fairly fast clip without sacrificing too many details. MISTS, while not sacrificing story, leaves the viewer wishing that about an hour had been left on the cutting room floor.



Getting back to the similarities, DUNE and MISTS share in common an above average primary cast. Huston is incredibly believable as the high priestess that sacrifices everything to obtain her ambitions. Marguiles' take on Morgaine won't make you forget the dark villainess from EXCALIBUR, but it does manage to stand on its own. You believe she's a character trying to break free from the mechanizations of others. To give the guys their due, the most chilling performance is that of Hans Matheson. His Mordred is wicked in a manner similar to Joachim Phoenix's Commodus from GLADIATOR. Now that is the kind of villain one wishes to see more of.



In THE MISTS OF AVALON, Joan Allen plays Morgause, Queen of Lothian and Orkney

The only truly weak portrayal is that of Joan Allen. Her Morgause never comes across as evil enough to turn son against mother and a child into a monster. The way she curses Gwenhwyear so she that can't produce children is almost comical. Instead, her character comes off as a spoiled child who will never forgive the world for denying her some piece of candy. This isn't the performance of an actress who stunned audiences with THE CONTENDER, that's for sure. Maybe there's a reason why Allen never plays bad guys.



While definitely a miniseries that will please the New Age market (after all, it gives them all the titillation they want in nice soft colors and pleasant major chord washes), fans of the book will definitely find something to gripe about. On the other hand, the regular viewer may find something to keep his or her attention going. If not, repeats of the X-FILES are only a click away.

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