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Article ID: 3529
Age Group: Adult
Posted: July 6th. 2001
The Mists of Avalon: A Preview
by Peg Aloi
The long-awaited mini-series of the longtime best-selling novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley will premiere on TNT July 15th and 16th. Our full review will appear next week (we don't want to spoil you before then!) but, just to get your appetites whetted, I will offer some of my first impressions of the mini-series, which I viewed this past week.
First some background: Bradley's novel, if you have not read it, is an ambitious and beautifully-wrought epic, the retelling of the Arthurian saga from the point of view of the women behind the throne: Morgaine (Morgan le Fay, Arthur's half-sister), Viviane (the Lady of the Lake in Avalon, the magical land which exists just beyond the obscuring mists near Glastonbury), Igraine (Arthur's mother by Uther Pendragon, Morgaine's mother by the Duke of Cornwall) and Gwenhwyfar (Arthur's wife and, in this version, a pious Christian who dislikes his allegiance to the Old Religion). This novel, which is really a trilogy in one book, is a feminist, historically-detailed, mythically-rich, magically-faceted story that has been very much a part of the literary canon of modern Witches and pagans. A "prequel" entitled Lady of Avalon delves more closely into the world of the priestesses of Avalon: the magical isle which lies between the worlds, shrouded in mist and accessible only to those who have been magically initiated into the old ways.
If you have not read either of these books, I am here to tell you that you must: there is nothing more to say on the subject. (the book is being re-released in a special edition to coincide with the mini-series premiere).
I do not think you need to read either one to be able to appreciate the mini-series, however. In fact, I was somewhat disappointed that the series does not really tell the whole story (hard to do, in three hours). I do hope that viewers will be encouraged to seek out the novel, though, if they have never read itand then its prequel: Ms. Bradley (who died last year) did a great service to the modern magical community when she undertook this colossal work; and forever changed the way we see the Matter of Britain, which previously was mostly viewed through the most popular version of the story, Le Morte D'Arthur, which was the basis of John Boorman's excellent film Excalibur.
First off, I have to say that it is times like this I really like my job as a media witch! My press kit for The Mists of Avalon contained not just the two video tapes of Parts One and Two (sans commercials), but a packet of production material and interviews, including color slides from the show and a nice color "family tree" photograph showing all the characters and their relationships to each other. And, are you ready? A CD! Loreena McKennitt's beautiful the mask and mirror, which contains the song "Mystic's Dream, " which is very effectively used in the mini-series (one of my favorite segments is the one which utilizes this incredible song, to punctuate Morgaine's rite of passage from young acolyte to priestess).
Some of you may be aware that this mini-series has been a long time in the making. James Coburn, a veteran Hollywood actor, has been trying for years to get this made, and was originally slated to play the part of Merlin. This was first made known back in the early 1980s, not long after the book was published, It was a best-seller, but more importantly, it captured the public consciousness. I remember it as being one of the "three big ones" witches were reading then, along with Starhawk's The Spiral Dance, and Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon. That a novel, a work of fiction, could be so influential; in formulating the values and worldview of the modern pagan community (for I believe that is what it did) is no small feat, and a testament to the power and beauty of Bradley's book.
Coburn is one of the executive producers of this version which will show on TNT. If anyone remembers the min-series Merlin which aired a couple of years ago (with excellent actors like Sam Neill and Miranda Richardson), it did seem to many viewers that this mini-series was what The Mists of Avalon was supposed to be, except that it portrayed Morgan le Fay as evil, and Merlin was central to the plot (he is less important in Bradley's version). And those who'd remembered hearing Bradley's book was to be made for a TV movie wondered, "where is it?"
Hen earlier this year the news was official: filming was to begin in Prague, and the cast had been chosen. Julianna Margulies as Morgaine (a TV actress who'd won an Emmy for ER), Angelica Huston as Viviane, Samantha Mathis as Gwynhwyfar, and multiple Oscar-nominee Joan Allen as Morgause, the, shall we say, "misguided and power-hungry" sister of Viviane. Most of the other actors are relative unknowns (the men especially, but perhaps this is in keeping with the fact that the men in this version of the myth are less important than the women), I know some have had reservations with these casting choices particularly Margulies as Morgaine, but I was very impressed with her portrayal, as I was with all of the performances.
The cinematography and direction were quite outstanding as well, and for the most part I liked the teleplay. My main complaint about this mini-series was that, being only three hours long, it simply could not begin to capture the complexity of Bradley's book. Though the show started out well, and I was convinced it would be a faithful and wonderful adaptation, I think much was left unexplained and unexpressed, and given an easy treatment. Great acting, lovely visuals, a passionate story; but too much left out!
Next: what was missing? And why was it important?
Media Coordinator - The Witches' Voice
Monday, July 10th, 2001
Email: [Staff Email]
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