Bradley James in Merlin

TV Choice went to France in June to watch the filming of Merlin, which is now back for a fifth series. In a break from shooting, Bradley James, who plays King Arthur, told us more about the hit fantasy drama…

We’ve just seen Angel Coulby, who plays Queen Guinevere, in costume. She looks amazing!
Have you got a thing for her?

MerlinErm… moving on. Well, she’s married to King Arthur now, so obviously she’s off the market. How are they getting on?
I think everything’s falling in line for Arthur. He’s achieving what he set out to achieve at the beginning, with Camelot as a whole. All the pieces of the jigsaw are fitting nicely into place.

The current series moves the Arthurian story on three years…
Yes, we just shot me yesterday conveniently saying, ‘It’s been three years since we did anything important…’ so, yes, three years on, three years wiser.

Is Morgana (Katie McGrath) still the main threat to Camelot?
I think as long as she’s in the wild, she’s always going to be the threat. And she’s had three years to better prepare herself this time around. But we’re coming up against other villains as well. A lot is being thrown on Arthur’s shoulders, as he’s a relatively new king.

Does this series have a darker tone?
That’s a phrase that gets bandied about each year. You say, ‘Okay, how are we going to describe this?’ I think effectively, each year, it just gets a little more grown up. ‘Darker’ is the more commercial word you use to sell it, and it does make sense, but I think it’s just the fact that the show, the characters, and the audience have all grown up.

What’s it like wearing the costume, and the chainmail?
It’s heavy, it’s nice to take it off at the end of the day. That’s a good part of my day!

When you’re shooting in France in the Château de Pierrefonds, the public is allowed to watch filming in the courtyard. How do you feel about that?
I love being here in France. But it’s got more and more difficult with more people turning up. It’s very flattering, but it is hard because people bring their cameras, so you feel like you can’t make mistakes. It’s better to be in an environment where you can mess around, and try things out, and know that your mistakes won’t be recorded.

They’re, strangely, having a good time. We think they must be very bored, but they’re not bored. It’s the one element I don’t enjoy about France, the amount of people here. Everything else is fantastic. I’m really happy to be here.

Is it harder to concentrate on lines when the public is watching?
Yeah, it inhibits you. You want to be in free-flow, and unfortunately that’s not possible. But you have to get on with it.

Do you think Arthur is ready to learn Merlin is a sorcerer?
Yes, I do. He’s well ready. It’s something that – because of the dynamic of the show — the creators are probably wanting to hold onto. It’s worked in the past, and that’s effectively the tease for the audience. But I’m hoping that it doesn’t go on too much longer — we’ll see.

MerlinWhat’s it been like filming action sequences this time round?
It’s been great, because I’ve got some knights with me now. What used to happen was that it would be a full day of me running around, enjoying it, but getting very tired. Whereas now, I run around for a bit. Then I stop, and someone else runs around for a bit, and then they stop. Effectively, I get a bit more of a rest, which is lovely. They’re great fun. It’s such a bonus to the role that you perform these stunts and fights. It’s real a dream come true.

The swords look pretty heavy. Are they?
They could give you a fair whack! They could take a man out, I’m pretty sure. They couldn’t chop your head off because they’ve been blunted, but they could probably cave it in for you. But we rehearse everything we do in very safe conditions.

And sometimes you’re fighting imaginary things?
Actually, there’s been less of that in recent years, because I think as the show grows up it’s become more about political wars, as opposed to fighting mythical creatures.

So is storytelling becoming more important?
I think so, very much. That’s what has kept it fresh for us, and enjoyable. I think shows like this need to develop — and that’s what’s happened. Otherwise, it can get stale and audiences switch off, but that hasn’t happened. The audiences have grown for us — so we’ve been very fortunate.

David Collins

BBC1, Saturday