Academic journal article Arthuriana

Kaamelott's Global Fifth Century

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Kaamelott's Global Fifth Century

Article excerpt

As Norris J. Lacy remarks, 'Retellings of the Arthurian story are strikingly common in modern English-speaking traditions, but far less so in French.'1 Lacy's survey indicates that fewer than two dozen literary and cinematic works produced in French between 1974 and 2001 take up the Arthurian legends, but some of those works, such as Robert Bresson's Lancelot du Lac (1974) and Eric Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois (1978), have enjoyed widespread critical acclaim and attention beyond France's borders. One of the most recent retellings to come out of France, the television series Kaamelott, also deserves the attention of English-speaking audiences, for it offers much to delight both academic and amateur fans of the legends. French audiences have embraced the show very enthusiastically indeed, making it one of the most successful series ever on French television. One factor that contributes to the success of the show is its familiarity. Because King Arthur's rather cosmopolitan court encompasses a variety of ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs, it resembles the multicultural and globally connected world of Astier's viewers and permits them to make a more direct connection between Kaamelott's fictional world and their own. Although not the principal focus of the series, Astier's reinterpretation of the legend also serves as a vehicle for commenting on a variety of issues that still concern contemporary audiences, such as capital punishment and the role of religion as an institution. Despite its fifth-century setting, the world of Kaamelott is one with which viewers can identify, thereby inviting recognition and reflection on their part.

When it first aired on the French television channel M6 in 2005, Kaamelott was filling the time slot of the recently concluded and very popular comedy series Caméra Café, but what started out as a replacement proved to be a smash hit for Alexandre Astier, the creative genius behind the show.2 The series really is Astier's brainchild, for he writes the scripts, directs the episodes, edits the takes during production, composes the musical score, and plays the principal role in the show, that of King Arthur. Kaamelott has its origins in Astier's award-winning short film Dies irae (2003) and the ten pilot episodes that were produced prior to the series being picked up by M6, but even though the series is no longer on the air, the development of the story has not yet come to an end. The final episode of season six, broadcast in October 2009, left the spectators in suspense. As the audience watched the king finally beginning to recover from his attempted suicide, the closing titles declared that 'Bientôt Arthur sera de nouveau un héros' [Soon Arthur will once again be a hero].3 Astier has announced that he plans to continue the story in a trilogy of feature-length films and that a collection of short stories entitled Kaamelott: Résistance will function as a link between the television series and the film trilogy.4 In addition, Astier's Arthurian corpus includes eight graphic novels that expand the narrative presented in the series.5 Taken as a whole, Astier's oeuvre is thus already quite significant in magnitude, even without the projected additions.

The series itself features nearly all of the familiar Arthurian characters (Arthur, Guenièvre, Lancelot, Merlin, the Dame du Lac, Gauvain, Perceval, Bohort, Yvain, and so on), but the majority of those characters differ strikingly from what one might expect, particularly if one expects to see figures that correspond to their medieval literary models. Whereas Chrétien de Troyes gives us a portrait of 'le roi et ses barons,/ De cui si granz est li renons/ De corteisie et de proesce' [the king and his nobles, whose reputation for courtesy and prowess is so great], most of the knights of Kaamelott do not appear to be 'boens [et] hardiz et conbatanz et fiers' [good and brave and eager for battle and proud].6 On the contrary, Astier invites his audience into a court that falls rather short of that stellar literary reputation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.