We last saw evil Morgana disappearing beneath the rubble of Camelot in the season finale of Merlin but fans can heave a sigh of relief as the delicious sorceress returns and is up to more wickedness in series four which is currently filming in Cardiff and France.
On set at Pierrefonds Castle, north of Paris. which doubles as Camelot, Irish actress Katie McGrath could hardly contain her excitement when we caught up with her just a stone's throw from a Medieval jousting field complete with horses and knights in armour. With her summer mini dress, trendy ankle boots and big sunglasses, she’s looking more Glastonbury pop festival than Arthur’s mystical Avalon, but her raven black hair is unmistakably Morgana. She’d beg to differ that blondes have more fun after spending a large part of the last four years decked out in sumptuous costumes and making mischief in BBC’1’s hit tea time show.
It’s well known that baddies get the best lines but Colin Morgan – who plays the title role - doesn’t exactly look down in the dumps about being the drama’s force for good. Like Katie he’s in mufti when we meet (grey t-shirt, black jeans) and excited to be back in France, surrounded by knights in chain mail, even if they break the spell by smoking the occasional crafty cigarette between scenes.
Merlin’s job has always been to protect young Arthur – the man born to be king – without alerting him to his magic powers which are punishable by death in Uther’s kingdom. He did his job last series with the help of magical sword Excalibur but the stakes are even higher as the programme returns and, without giving any spoilers, viewers should brace themselves for a string of shocks.
Visiting Pierrefonds is a slightly surreal experience, a bit like glimpsing some Disney creation except this castle dates back to 1393, although renovations restored the ruins in the 19th century. Queuing for lunch along with French extras in full costume, we spot Nathaniel Parker – hair longer than his recent appearance in ITV1’s Injustice – who joins Merlin as Arthur’s uncle Agravaine. It’s like a boys own adventure on set which could explain why established actors such as Nathaniel are eager to appear – that and the fact it’s screened in more than 200 countries worldwide including Chile, home of Santiago Cabrera, who plays Lancelot. He shared tantalizing kisses with Gwen in previous appearances but her destiny lies with Arthur and all we can say is Lancelot’s courage knows no bounds in the new series. Angel Coulby, who plays Gwen, has to be the luckiest girl alive getting up close and personal with Santiago and Bradley James (Arthur) but she appears to be taking it – and the internet banter it’s provoked – in her stride. She’s the only one of the main leads who looks the part during our visit, dressed in full costume she heads off to film a scene just as a car arrives to whisk us back to nearby Compiegne station. If only we could magically turn back time and stay another day….