Atlantis: BBC’s Merlin replacement has something for everyone – review

Those who know their gods and goddesses are bound to be tut-tut-ting; the rest of the family will be swept along with gutsy Jason, guileless Pythagoras and hapless Hercules, says Claire Webb

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“They went to war, didn’t they…?” mused Robert Emms at the official launch. Curious journalists and an anxious-looking cast had gathered in a plush hotel in central London for the unveiling of BBC1’s new fantasy drama, which the Corporation clearly hopes will repeat the global success of Merlin. 

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“…with the Trojans?” Emms blundered blithely on. “They went to war with someone…”

It says a lot that after six months of filming one of the stars – Emms plays Pythagoras – is still sketchy about the mythical island of Atlantis. Or indeed that Pythagoras features at all: either my maths teacher was pulling a fast one or Pythagoras was a real mathematician – not a myth.

Just as they did with Merlin, creators Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy have re-spun centuries-old legends into action-packed TV. The setting may be Ancient Greece – not Arthurian England – but the recipe remains the same: fresh-faced heroes, seasoned supporting actors, guest stars, a generous sprinkling of humour and dollop of CGI.

Once again, there’s something for everyone. Younger viewers will be mesmerised by the two-headed dragon that tries to take a bite out of the bum of our hero, Jason (future leader of the Argonauts). They’ll love the nudity gag and hiding behind a cushion during his unsettling scenes with Poseidon the oracle – played by a red-eyed, marble-faced Juliet Stevenson. 

Geeks will adore Pythaogoras. Adventurers will relish the fact that Jason is sentenced to death and squares up the human-chomping Minotaur within minutes of us meeting him. (Yes, pedants: it was actually Theseus who fought the Minotaur.) Children and adults alike will giggle at Mark Addy’s unheroic Hercules – a less dastardly version of his ill-fated king in Game of Thrones, Robert Bartheon.

13 year-old girls and their mums will be saucer-eyed at Jason’s perfectly sculpted pectorals (and enjoy how the camera lingers when he’s washed up on a beach). 13 year-old boys and their dads will be smitten with Atlantis’ glamorous princess Ariadne. Mums and feminist dads will be pleased she’s not just a pretty face. As for those still mourning Merlin… 

Well, you can’t please everyone.

Best of all, there isn’t a whiff of the disused Tesco warehouse in Chepstow: where most of the drama was filmed. You’d think the cast had spent the last six months in the searing heat of Morocco, not a mere three weeks. As the nights darken and leaves turn from green to yellow to mulch, this promises to be the perfect tonic.

In short, those who know their gods and goddesses are bound to be tut-tut-ting; the rest of the family will be swept along with gutsy Jason, guileless Pythagoras and hapless Hercules.

Atlantis starts on Saturday 28th September, 8.25pm, BBC1

 


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