Merlin creators reveal why the potential spin-off movie never happened

The Colin Morgan series’ team had “conversations” about taking the boy wizard to the big screen – and they still have a few ideas for where the characters are now

Colin Morgan in Merlin (BBC, HF)

Running on BBC One from 2008 to 2012 and launching the careers of actors like Colin Morgan and Katie McGrath, fantasy drama Merlin was a pretty big hit on the small screen – but did you know that once upon a time, there was talk of turning it into a movie?

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Yes, according to series creators Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps there really was a chance that we’d see Merlin, Arthur et al in a big-screen adventure during the drama’s heyday, only for a combination of bad timing and uncertainty about the impact on the TV show meaning that the project never went ahead.

“There was talk,” Murphy told RadioTimes.com in the Q&A portion of our RT Watchalong of Merlin’s first episode (below). “I don’t think we got that close. But there was an appetite to do it.”

“We talked a lot about when we would do it, how we would do it, what the story would be, what the arc would be,” added Capps. “There were lots of conversations.

“[The TV show] was a different take – it was a Merlin and Arthur who were contemporaries, and that was different. You had a fascinating, funny, complicated relationship, and that would have to have been the heart of our movie.

“But at the point we could have done it Guy Ritchie had just started developing his Arthurian movie [King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, eventually released in 2017], and so there was a worry about which movie company would [we] take it to.”

There were also some concerns about what creating a movie would do to the TV show that started it all.

“The trouble with the movie was the fear that, if you do it while the TV series is on, does it damage the series? Which by then was all over the world and was an important show,” Capps told us during the Q&A.

“I think our feeling was if you were to do a movie you had to wait until the TV series had run its course,” Murphy said.

Colin Morgan and Bradley James in Merlin (BBC, HF)
Colin Morgan and Bradley James in Merlin (BBC, HF)

“And by that point…sometimes movies take so long, so we’d finished [the series],” Capps continued. “And all the other actors were doing other things, so it sort of became impossible.”

“To make a big British fantasy action film is hard at the best of times,” Murphy added. “There just wasn’t the momentum to do it. But there were conversations on several occasions, yeah.”

According to both creators, even if there had been a Merlin movie it wouldn’t have been the finale of the story – rather, it would have come earlier during the series’ life – and they said that in the end, they wouldn’t have wanted to do more Merlin than they actually ended up making.

“We always saw it as five years,” Capps told us, “And we wouldn’t have been able to contract the actors for any more than that.

“It was a labour of love but after five years, 13 episodes each year…by the end we were pretty burnt out, the actors and everybody. We wanted to leave the series on a high, and not be one of those series that just goes on and on and on and gradually just loses its audience.

“We all felt it was right to end at that point. There was no thought of season six.”

The younger cast of Merlin L-R Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Bradley James (Arthur), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Colin Morgan (Merlin)
The younger cast of Merlin L-R Angel Coulby (Guinevere), Bradley James (Arthur), Katie McGrath (Morgana), Colin Morgan (Merlin)

Though that hasn’t stopped both men wondering what may have happened next after the series concluded with Arthur (Bradley James) dead, Gwen (Angel Coulby) Queen of Camelot and Merlin living on for centuries as he awaited his King’s return.

“Yeah of course you think about it, and of course you could spin off other series,” Murphy told RadioTimes.com.

“We imagine what Camelot is like under Gwen’s rule, and it would possibly be a good TV series!”

“Merlin’s still out there, but I hope he’s not sleeping as rough as he was,” Capps added. “He’s found a small cottage somewhere in the West Country.”

“But I think you have to let these things go,” concluded Murphy. “That series was in that moment in time, and the way to think of it is… look at that legend, look how rich it is, and find the next version of it.

“Someone else will come along and take that extraordinary, wonderful material of that legend and build something new.”

And when that happens, we’re sure the people who loved Merlin will be ready for another journey into Camelot.

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All five series of Merlin are available to watch on BBC iPlayer – check out our list of the best TV shows on BBC iPlayer, or check out what else is on with our TV Guide