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Marion Zimmer Bradley's bestseller is adapted with grace. 

"Mists" of Enchantment

Call this the summer of decent TV fantasies. Hard on the heels of PBS' "Gormenghast" comes another television phantasmagoria, "The Mists of Avalon."

The "Avalon" part should be a clue for anybody who's ever been enthralled by the Arthurian legend.

To refresh your memories, Arthur — of the round table — was the semilegendary sixth-century king of the Britons who battled the invading Anglo-Saxons. Legend has it that Arthur was the son of Uther Pendragon, king of Britain. Kept out of the public eye as a child, he was suddenly presented to the people as their king. He then gathered a great company of goodly knights around the aforementioned round table to help him run his kingdom. With the aid of his queen, Guinevere, he maintained a sumptuous (for the time) court at Caerleon-upon-Usk that many believe was the legendary Camelot. Following wars and victories on the continent, he was called home because his nephew, Mordred, had seized his kingdom. Arthur and Mordred killed each other in a final battle.

How much of the story is real and how much is myth is anybody's guess.

Most English majors — and many others — are familiar with the story through the writings of Sir Thomas Malory's "Le Morte d'Arthur," along with Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Idylls of the King" and Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queene." But nobody had told the story from the viewpoint of the women behind Arthur's throne.

Eighteen years ago, Marion Zimmer Bradley retold the story with a feminist twist in "The Mists of Avalon." The book spent three months on the New York Times best-seller list.

Bradley's story makes a fascinating fantasy for television, especially with the cinematic expertise of Academy Award-winner Vilmos Zsigmond, the miniseries' director of photography. Filmed on location in Prague, "The Mists of Avalon" is superbly conceived and beautifully filmed.

Julianna Margulies ("E.R.") stars as Morgaine, Arthur's sister, separated from her younger brother when he is taken by Merlin to be trained to be king. Anjelica Huston is Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, who presides as high priestess on the misty Isle of Avalon. The story begins in this telling as Viviane determines to preserve Paganism in its fight against the encroachment of Christianity by training Morgaine to be her successor and by manipulating the royal lineage to make Arthur king.

"E.R." fans who know Margulies well as Nurse Hathaway may fear they'll have a hard time picturing her as Morgaine, but if they do, it will only be briefly. The entire cast sweeps the audience up into the story without preamble, and Zsigmond, who gave us "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," works his magic with similar panache in "Avalon."

It's a strong story that can survive repeated tellings and still charm old and new audiences. The Arthurian legend is such a story, and "The Mists of Avalon" is a fresh and engaging retelling of
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