Tuesday, December 15, 2015

An Enchantress: Merlin Meets His Match (Maybe)

It is a system of magic economists will appreciate. When a sorcerer magically gives in one place, the mystical checks and balances will take from someplace else. It is hard to predict how the accounts will be evened, even for an experienced magician like Merlin. No, he is most likely not that Merlin. However, he has professional reasons for keeping people wondering in director-screenwriter Ian Lewis’s An Enchantress (trailer here), which releases today on DVD from MVD.

If the Arthurian Merlin were alive and well, living in provincial England, he might also make ends meet by staging magic shows at the local theater. This Merlin is [probably] not that Merlin, but his magic is real. He supplements his income by performing real magic for paying customers, but he tries to limit the impact of his spells and ensure they are cast for a worthy cause. Helping the venal Strumble ascend to the local planning council was a mistake in retrospect.

The resulting corruption will have ripple effects that will ensnare Merlin and his wife Gail. However, in the short-term they will be distracted grieving for his step-son Gary. The circumstances of his backpacking death remain murky, despite the return of his committed girlfriend Viviane. She makes Merlin a bit nervous. In addition to her unhealthy obsession with magic and her uncomfortable flirtatiousness, there is the matter of her name. After all, it was Nimueh (a.k.a. Viviane) who seduced Merlin and entrapped him in the Crystal Cave.

If you can get past the low budget aesthetic, An Enchantress is a super little British genre sleeper. Lewis uses magic in intriguing ways, while playing clever games with the Arthurian source material. He also sets a weirdly ambiguous tone for the village, where belief and skepticism for Merlin’s powers go hand-in-hand. Nevertheless, magic is very real in this world, as is government corruption.

Veteran British television character actor Nicholas Ball is terrific as Merlin. He has both the old school presence and the mischievousness you would expect from a powerful sorcerer. He also develops some attractively realistic chemistry with Johanne Murdock’s very down-to-earth Gail. Olivia Llewelyn projects a sense of danger and sexual unease while guarding Viviane’s secrets. Abigail McKern (Rumpole’s daughter) also leads the film some classical gravitas as Merlin’s mystical counselor.

There is considerably more scope to An Enchantress than you initially expect, but Lewis peels back the onion so smoothly, it all makes narrative sense. Granted, you have to just accept the quality of the special effects, but if you grew up with shows like the original Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, then they will have nostalgic appeal. Frankly, it feels like a cult favorite 1970s BBC television film that has only now been discovered, in the best way imaginable. Highly recommended for dark fantasy fans, An Enchantress is now available on DVD from MVD.