The Weekend's TV: Camelot, Sat, Channel 4
James May's Toy Stories: the Great Train Race, Sun, BBC2

Not one of their better knights

I'd better confess to a disability before tackling Camelot, Channel 4's new Saturday night drama.

It's a strange one. Beards on television? No problem at all. Similarly swords on television. I'm perfectly capable of maintaining a dispassionate lack of prejudice. But combine the beards with the swords and I begin to have real difficulties keeping a straight face. If you then drape the beardy swordsmen in dead animal skins and add ecclesiastical dirges on to the soundtrack, I'm in real trouble. It's better you know, frankly. I understand that a lot of people love these things and that Game of Thrones already has a following that is positively cult-like. But I feel like a colour-blind man looking at a Farrow & Ball paint chart.

Camelot obeys several of the basic rules of the genre in its modern form. There must be sex, for one thing, and not just discreet sinking-out-of-the-frame-type sex, but the nipple-flashing, buttock-revealing kind. So we first encountered Arthur as he lay stark naked on a river bank with an obliging local wench, trailing an approving finger across her haunch. There will also be bad language, or rather language pointedly at odds with the cod High Style that used to be de rigueur in these things. When an onlooker doubts that Arthur will be able to pull the sword from the stone, Merlin doesn't say, "Begone, low churl." He says, "Piss off." There will also be – and this really makes it tricky to control the giggling – a lot of Glowery Gothic, a style of acting in which everyone looks incandescently furious all the time.

I suppose if you're Morgan Le Fay you might feel you had good reason to be cross. Camelot began with her return home to her father King Uther's court and it wasn't a jolly reunion. First of all he punched her in the face because she called his wife a horse, and then he disowned her and threw her out. So Morgan – played by Eva Green – shape-shifted into a serving girl and poisoned him. Danny Kaye came to mind: "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true." Then I realised that Danny wasn't helping and tried to concentrate, not assisted in this task by James Purefoy's decision to give the villainous Lot (who joins forces with Morgan) an evil cackle of Brian Blessed dimensions.

Merlin (Joseph Fiennes) bucks the conventions a little, since he looks nothing like Dumbledore at all but is played as a cross between an East End enforcer and Alastair Campbell. There's even a hint that he may have rigged the succession, by putting the sword in the stone himself and spreading the story that its removal is the only guaranteed sign of legitimacy. If so, he certainly has an eye for public theatre, since he's wedged it into the lip of a 200-foot high waterfall that Arthur has to climb first, giving floating voters plenty of time to assemble for the big finish. That comes later though, after Arthur has been introduced to Camelot and a rather ragged band of supporters. "You've got everything here... there's so much potential," said one of his sidekicks, looking around the ruined walls. "You sound like Merlin," replied Arthur. Well, no. He sounded like an estate agent. Available for immediate viewing: Seat of National Revival. Excellent cliff-top position and spacious dining area. In need of modernisation.

You may feel this shows scant regard for our national myth, a narrative that has fed into great literature from Malory to Tennyson. To which I'd reply that Camelot doesn't show a huge amount of respect either, and that unconstrained solemnity about the Arthurian legend can turn out far worse than levity. You can think of Danny Kaye while watching this jolly tosh. Or you can, as I did at one moment, think of Himmler, a big Arthur fan-boy who built Wewelsburg Castle as a kind of Tuetonic replica of Camelot. When you hear a line like "We're in a fight for our lives for the soul of this country" uttered with solemn urgency, you catch just a whiff of that gamey scent of national purification. Better to giggle, I think, than take it seriously.

There was a very different account of patriotic values in James May's Toy Stories: the Great Train Race. "This is what makes Britain great," he said proudly, and he wasn't talking about kingly virtues or knightly fealty but the willingness to get up early on your day off and help lay a model railway line from Bideford to Barnstaple, 10 miles on the map but a scale distance of 700 for the miniature engines that were going to make the run. An earlier attempt to pull off this feat ended in failure, after all the toy trains broke down. For this re-run May had tweaked the format a little, challenging a group of German model-railway enthusiasts to a head-to-head race with three different types of train – antique, modern and a futuristic design that had to have an on-board power source (the Germans, helpfully, had fuelled theirs with alcohol brewed from sauerkraut). To be honest, the charm of the thing ran out long before the trains made it to their final destination, despite an attempt to dress up minor hiccups along the way as moments of nailbiting tension. But it did have real charm to begin with. It's unnerving, but I really liked James May's Man Lab too. I think I might be turning into a bloke.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific