Jor­dan Far­ley jour­neys to the fa­bled realm of Chep­stow for the darker, dead­lier sec­ond se­ries of At­lantis

SFX - - Atlantis -

We’ve made some big changes this year,” At­lantis co- cre­ator Johnny Capps tells

SFX. Fa­mil­iar words in TV land, but for once it doesn’t feel like an empty prom­ise.

As the heir to Mer­lin’s Satur­day evening fan­tasy crown At­lantis still has a lot left to prove. The 13- episode first se­ries was met with solid rat­ings but crit­i­cal in­dif­fer­ence and the no­table ab­sence of the Arthurian ad­ven­ture show’s ra­bid fan base. What most for­get, how­ever, is that even the mighty

Mer­lin took a year or two to find its groove, and At­lantis shows ev­ery sign of a sim­i­larly mean­ing­ful evo­lu­tion in its sec­ond se­ries.

“Our sub­ti­tle this year is ‘ A New Dawn’,” says Capps dur­ing the fi­nal few weeks of film­ing. “It’s some­thing the Or­a­cle says to Ja­son very early on. To us that line her­alds the fact that the se­ries has moved on, and it’s a new start to the se­ries as well. It’s a nice way of mark­ing that.”

While wan­der­ing around the show’s colos­sal Chep­stow stu­dio ( fun fact: it was once a Tesco ware­house), that new start

“we’ve pushed what you can achieve with tv time and bud­get”

isn’t im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent. There are newly con­structed sets – a beau­ti­ful Court­yard Of The Sun built around a deca­dent wa­ter fea­ture, a dusty mar­ket street flanked by two- storey stone houses – and ex­ten­sions to ex­ist­ing en­vi­ron­ments, but the changes are sub­tle and almost un­con­sciously im­mer­sive. When Pythago­ras ac­tor Robert Emms sits down in front of SFX, iPhone in hand, the now- every­day de­vice sud­denly looks star­tlingly alien.

“We wanted to make At­lantis feel like more of a lived- in world,” says Capps. “That’s what Game Of Thrones does so well and it’s one thing we’ve re­ally fo­cused on this year. We’ve also changed the tone of the se­ries some­what in that the ac­tors’ per­for­mances are slightly more nat­u­ral­is­tic than be­fore. We’ve changed the cos­tume de­signs. There’s a lot more dirt and sweat. And we worked very hard on the ef­fects, so it’s been a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney this year mak­ing a fan­tasy show feel very real, vis­ceral and rooted.”


Changes like th­ese might not be the head­line­grab­bing kind, but one ma­jor change in At­lantis is bound to raise a few eye­brows: life has moved on a whole year at the start of the sec­ond se­ries. Pasiphae is liv­ing in ex­ile and there’s been a big shake up on the throne. King Mi­nos is dead; long live Queen Ari­adne!

“When an au­di­ence has waited a year it al­ways feels slightly dis­ap­point­ing if you just pick up straight away. But also, we re­ally like to shake things up!” Capps says. “We left se­ries one with Mi­nos a bro­ken man, in very ill health, re­al­is­ing that Pasiphae be­trayed him. We start this se­ries a year later and on hear­ing of Mi­nos’ death Pasiphae has sworn to take At­lantis back and we have Ari­adne as the young queen try­ing to step into her fa­ther’s shoes.

“We’re putting this young princess into this very pow­er­ful po­si­tion and she’s in the sit­u­a­tion of a young Queen El­iz­a­beth I – she’s a strong and dy­namic woman but she has to sur­vive in a very male world and prove her­self as a young leader. Does she need to be­come ruth­less like Pasiphae, or can she rule with a kind heart? Does she marry for love or strate­gi­cally to keep At­lantis safe? It’s a re­ally in­ter­est­ing jour­ney for Ari­adne be­cause we see her grow­ing up and the sac­ri­fices she has to make to be­come a leader.”

Wast­ing no time, the open­ing two- parter will see war with Pasiphae’s forces erupt on the streets of At­lantis. Ex­pect bat­tles, blood­shed and the kind of scale se­ries one could only dream about. “I’m very ex­cited about the first two episodes,” Capps en­thuses. “It tells quite an epic story and we’ve re­ally pushed what you can achieve on tele­vi­sion time and bud­get. We have mas­sive bat­tle se­quences and it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing story about a young queen thrown into this huge bat­tle and how Her­cules, Ja­son and Pythago­ras support her. It re­ally sets the tone for this se­ries; that lives are at stake, that a city’s at stake and this isn’t just a nice bawdy romp. This is now a much more ma­ture se­ries which is about the strug­gle for power and the rip­ple ef­fect on every­body at the core of that.” There have been some big changes be­hind the cam­era too. Though the writ­ing team is largely in­tact ( with Mis­fits’ Howard Over­man once again pen­ning the bulk of the episodes) the ap­proach to plot­ting has un­der­gone a sig­nif­i­cant reap­praisal.

“My­self, Howard, Rachael Knight and Ju­lian Murphy have sto­ry­lined the se­ries in a very dif­fer­ent way this year in that it’s very se­ri­alised, which to us makes the se­ries a lot richer and more emotionally dy­namic,” Capps ex­plains. “In se­ries one they were self- con­tained sto­ries. We’d be­come aware that peo­ple are watch­ing tele­vi­sion in very dif­fer­ent ways now, so we wanted to re­flect that change. We still have a story of the week but the story of the week has in­trigu­ing character arcs through it with a lot of two and three- parters. It thick­ens up the sto­ries and there’s a lot more jeop­ardy and in­trigue. The strug­gle of feud­ing fam­i­lies and the strug­gle for power is a big theme through­out the se­ries. It’s been very hard work but it’s been re­ally good fun in that we’ve changed the way we tell sto­ries.”

A lot of the think­ing be­hind the new and im­proved At­lantis has been spurred by the fact that, where At­lantis was once a show writ­ten for 7pm but broad­cast at 8: 30pm, it’s now a show writ­ten and re­alised with a later times­lot in mind. “The in­ter­est­ing thing about do­ing high con­cept shows, es­pe­cially for a Satur­day night au­di­ence, is that as you get to know the char­ac­ters and as the world thick­ens you can get darker and darker,” says Capps. “At­lantis was al­ways de­signed for a seven o’ clock au­di­ence, but it was sched­uled at eight thirty and it will be sched­uled at eight thirty again this year. That’s ex­cit­ing for us as pro­gramme mak­ers be­cause at eight thirty you can go a lit­tle bit darker and you can be a lit­tle bit more real and vis­ceral with the world and so that was some­thing we were keen to push and some­thing we felt was right for the for­mat of the show. We were very keen for it still to have a very broad au­di­ence ap­peal but we felt the

show was ro­bust enough to push it in a darker way and ex­plore the char­ac­ters’ darker sides as well.”


For Ja­son, Her­cules and Pythago­ras, heart­break awaits as their darker sides are fully ex­plored, but the three At­lantean ami­gos start se­ries two by liv­ing up to their billing as the An­cient Greek A- Team. “We set up in the first episode that they’re the only ones who can work for Ari­adne covertly if she needs peo­ple to go on mis­sions for her. And in episode one she asks them to go on a very dan­ger­ous mis­sion.”

Hav­ing been cursed with her leg­endary ser­pen­tine hairdo in se­ries one, Me­dusa will re­turn in a “sur­pris­ing way” which may even­tu­ally al­low for a rekin­dled ro­mance with Her­cules. And there are some key new char­ac­ters mak­ing a big im­pact in At­lantis this year, in­clud­ing Ari­adne’s fiercely loyal right hand man Dion ( 300’ s Vincent Re­gan); Te­la­mon ( Camelot’s Clive Standen), who vies for Ari­adne’s hand in mar­riage; and Medea ( Be­ing Hu­man’s Amy Man­son), a cru­cial fig­ure for Ja­son in the myths.

“Ja­son’s jour­ney in sea­son two is very much about ac­cept­ing his des­tiny and early on he re­alises that he needs to stop At­lantis be­ing de­stroyed,” says Capps. “But he’s got a big jour­ney to go on, be­cause as you know we left se­ries one re­veal­ing that Pasiphae, Ja­son’s sworn en­emy, is his mother. So it’s a very in­ter­est­ing story of a young man who ac­cepts his des­tiny but doesn’t re­alise what that en­tails – a very dark past about his mother and his fa­ther. That all gets ex­plored in the se­ries.

“Jack’s done an ex­tra­or­di­nary job as a young ac­tor,” Capps con­tin­ues. “He’s re­ally grown into the role and there are some heart­break­ing mo­ments for him be­cause not only does he have his past and his par­ents to deal with but he also has a re­ally in­ter­est­ing emo­tional story with Ari­adne. We ex­plore his re­la­tion­ship with Medea as well, so as the se­ries pro­gresses there’s a com­pelling love tri­an­gle.”

Big changes then. And there’s ev­ery in­di­ca­tion that At­lantis will be a bet­ter show for them. After all, the team be­hind Mer­lin cer­tainly knows a thing or two about play­ing the long game.

“Se­ries two for us is all about the power strug­gle of At­lantis be­tween Ari­adne and Pasiphae, th­ese two very dy­namic women that are sworn en­e­mies, and how Medea fits into that mix. Ja­son came to At­lantis to find his fa­ther and his mother and to find out the truth of that. And that’s what he un­cov­ers in this se­ries; that to us felt a much richer story and far more adult and in­ter­est­ing and dark.”

How many At­lanteans does it take to kill a spi­der?

“That’s not a knife. This is a knife.”

We hope they had prim­i­tive sun tan lo­tion in At­lantis. “Cross my palm with sil­ver, dearie.”

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