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Plot

Arthur and Kai return to their village to find it in flames, following a Saxon raid. The villagers are still trying to put out the fires when a Saxon longboat is seen in the river. Naturally, they think the enemy is returning, and Kai is the first to leap into action; but no dire threat lurks in the boat – just two Saxon children.

One of the Celt women leads the villagers in an angry protest; she wants to tie the children to the boat, and let them sink with it. But Arthur and Kai protect them, Arthur, carrying the girl, and Kai, shielding the boy with his cloak.

They find out that the children, Krist and Elka, don’t belong to their attackers, but to Ulrich’s people round the headland: Saxons with whom they have had no quarrel before.

Arthur tells Kai that he must be the one to take the children back to their village. At first, Kai refuses, saying that he is “no minder of children, especially Saxon brats”, but then Arthur reminds Kai that he was born a Saxon, and brought up by Llud, who was not too proud to look after a Saxon child. Kai is the only one who could get away with taking Krist and Elka home. Protesting that he is no good with children, Kai eventually goes along with Arthur’s plan.

He and the children travel through the summer countryside, stopping now and then. At one point, the children go and hide. When Kai finds them, he teaches them a secret whistle, in case they ever need to call for help.

At last, they arrive at a place Krist recognises, and Kai tells them to run ahead of him down the track to the village. He wisely intends to return home without encountering any more Saxons. But as he returns to his horse, one of the men from Ulrich’s village, Hald, surprises him, and – seeing that he has returned the lost children – insists that he come to the village.

Kai is greeted like a hero, wined and feasted. Ulrich’s daughter, Hildred, who has taken a shine to Kai, tries to persuade him to stay in their village. This incurs the anger of Horgren, a Saxon villager who carries a torch for Hildred, and resents this popular newcomer. Realising he has stayed too long already, Kai gets to his feet to return home, but Ulrich insists he stay the night, and Kai resigns himself to it.

Then the children blow his cover. While being put to bed, Krist innocently complains, saying that the Celts let them stay up late, and Kai is unmasked as the Saxon who rides with Arthur. He rapidly turns from hero into villain.
To Kai’s surprise, he is not killed straight away, but bound, and brought for trial. Accused of being a traitor, for killing his own kind, Kai says he doesn’t kill Saxons in revenge for having abandoned him. He only kills those who try to kill him, or to destroy the Celts’ way of life by cutting down the forests.

Horgren wants him put to death, but Hildred comes to his defence, saying that he brought the children back, and two lives deserve one – he should be set free. But Horgren accuses him of bringing the children back so he could spy on the camp.

As Ulrich and the rest of his elders debate Kai’s fate, he is kept bound and guarded in a hut. But Hildred sneaks around the back of the hut, and sticks the head of a spear through the wall, and Kai uses it to cuts his bonds.

Seeing that he is free, the guard comes inside and – in the ensuing struggle – accidentally stabs himself with his own knife. Kai hides the body and pretends he is still tied up. Ulrich comes with the surprising news that the prisoner is to be escorted out of Saxon territory, and set free.

Then Horgren comes in and finds the body. Kai bursts past two guards, out of the hut, and makes a run for it. All the men of the village give chase. Krist and Elka watch as they go past.

Kai hides in the woods. He breaks the neck of one of the men searching for him who gets too close. Meanwhile, Horgren finds Kai’s horse, and conceals himself nearby. When Kai runs to the horse, Horgren ambushes him, and they fight in the bracken.

Kai emerges, the victor, but with a nasty bleeding wound to the flank, and finds that his horse is nowhere to be seen.

The whole village is out beating the undergrowth for him, so again, he hides. All seems hopeless until Kai hears the secret whistle he taught the children. He peers out from his hiding place, to see them leading his horse towards him, half staggers, half falls onto the path, and lets Krist and Elka help him onto his horse. Kai grips Krist’s hand, tousles his hair, and rides away.

Elka then uses her – conveniently decapitated – doll to distract one of the Saxons, while Kai escapes.

Finally, we see Kai, lying in bed at home, his wound bandaged, and looking rather pensive. He and Arthur discuss how the Saxons treated him, and Arthur is perturbed to find that Kai has good things to say about Saxon justice. He has seen that the enemy is not so different after all.


Timeline

Despite being aired before “The Challenge”, “The Gift of Life” seems to have been the second of the two episodes to be filmed. It appears after “The Challenge” in the “Arthur of the Britons” annual-format book by Terence Feely, in a German book loosely based on the series, “Konig Arthur”, and on the German DVD set.

In “The Gift of Life”, Krist’s enquiry about a wound on Kai’s neck, given to him by Arthur, and the reference by Ulrich’s minstrel to Arthur and Kai’s great fight, both suggest that the events in “The Challenge” were supposed to have occurred before those in “The Gift of Life.”

An injury suffered by Oliver Tobias while filming “The Challenge” caused a delay in completing the episode, and they changed the schedule so as to keep filming. There are three early episodes – “The Gift of Life”, “The Penitent Invader”, and “People of the Plough” – in which Arthur barely features, presumably because Oliver needed time to recuperate. Though these episodes were filmed not far apart, the producers decided to spread them out, perhaps so that Oliver’s absence would not be so noticeable.

Further evidence for this episode having been filmed second, is Oliver Tobias’ apparent unsteadiness on his horse as they ride into the village. Oliver was a very skilled horseman, so it would be surprising to see him having problems if he were in the best of health.

vlcsnap-2014-07-20-12h43m47s210 vlcsnap-2014-07-20-12h43m48s215 vlcsnap-2014-07-20-12h43m48s221 vlcsnap-2014-07-20-12h43m49s226

Suggested shooting order so far

Arthur is Dead
Daughter of the King
The Challenge
The Gift of Life


Locations

Arthur’s village is still set at the Woodchester site, by the lakeside.

Longboat (20)

“The Gift of Life” is the first episode to feature the site at Woollard, where Ulrich’s village was set. The site was later to become Arthur’s new village. All filming was on the north east side of the longhouse.


Inside Information

Sean Fleming was actually the son of the Executive Producer, Patrick Dromgoole, but he used a pseudonym for the credit. Sean kindly agreed to be interviewed, and supplied these extra details.


Cast notes

Though Llud is mentioned, Jack Watson doesn’t appear in this episode. Supposedly, Llud was called away to see Ambrose.

Stephan Chase, who played Horgren, recently appeared in Maleficent. Some of his memories of appearing in the series can be found here.

When Tamzin Neville's mother, Daphne, who worked for HTV, heard that they were auditioning children, she took her three daughters to try out for parts. Tamzin was cast as Elka, and Perry was given a small speaking role as one of the Wood People’s children in “The Wood People.”  All three sisters appeared in "The Gift of Life", as both Perry and Sophie were cast as extras, along with their mother.

Welcome (18)

Daphne is on the far right, Sophie is wearing the gold dress, and Perry, the violet dress.

They all had ponies, so Tamzin, who was 8 years old, could already ride, though – according to Sophie – no one asked, before giving her the part. According to Sophie, Oliver Tobias later introduced Tamzin as his co-star.

Daphne Neville, who acted as their on-set chaperone, recalls that Michael Gothard was very good with the children.

daphne-neville-in-arthur-of-the-britons

This is Daphne, who appeared as an extra, playing a Saxon woman, with Tamzin, as Elka, Geoffrey Adams as Hald, and Sean Fleming as Krist.

Thanks to Stephan Chase, Sophie Neville, and Daphne Neville.

Further details and photos from the filming of "The Gift of Life" can be found on Sophie's blog, here.


The Hot-headed Sidekick/Family Ties


Though Kai is the first to tackle whatever threat is in the boat, when he finds it is just two children, he tries to keep them at arm’s length. But Arthur makes him engage, giving Elka’s doll to fix, and Kai is disconcerted when she thanks him for putting its head back on.

Then, as Arthur and Kai discuss what to do with the children, we find out why Kai might be reticent: Arthur reveals – for the first time – that Kai was an abandoned Saxon child, found and raised by Llud.

This sets up one of the main conflicts in the series; Kai is “the Saxon who rides with Arthur"; the cuckoo in the nest, who – every now and then – finds his loyalty questioned by others, or tested by circumstance, and has to prove himself a Celt at heart. This is probably why he was so keen to leap into the attack when the Saxon longboat appeared. It also explains his reluctance to talk to the children, or to be the one who returns them to their village.

Having persuaded Kai that he is the only one who can do the job, Arthur adjures Kai not to, “get too involved with the Saxons, and stay.” This seems unfair, given that he is the one who insisted Kai go in the first place, and earns him an offended look from Kai, but is perhaps less surprising if one assumes that their ferocious contest in “The Challenge” occurred just before the events in this episode, rather than after them.

Despite Kai’s earlier reluctance to be a childminder, during the course of their journey, Kai clearly becomes attached to the children, and when they go and hide, he is ready to draw blood to get them back. On finding them, he calls them, “little Saxon monsters” with a good deal of affection. He was genuinely worried and claims there are dangerous wild boar around, but in truth, he was just being over-protective! Despite what he claims, he is good with children!

On arriving in Saxon territory, Kai has some unsettling experiences: being asked by Hald, whether he mistook him for a ‘murdering Celt’; being welcomed as a hero by people he regards as his enemies; hearing the minstrel play a song that reminds him of his childhood. When he is asked to stay, by the Saxon leader’s pretty daughter, Hildred, he immediately gets up to leave, as if reminded that Arthur asked him not to get too involved with the Saxons, and fearing that this could easily happen.

Then, when his identity is revealed, Kai learns how the Saxons see him: Kai, the barbarian, Arthur’s right-hand man, the Saxon who fights against Saxons, and a traitor; Kai the Butcher.

In defending himself, Kai explains that as a child, he was left for dead by the Saxons, but he denies killing for revenge. He experiences a moment of confusion as to how to refer to himself: “The Celts were here before us. You are the intruders.” He tells them that he only kills those who would have killed him – and despatches three Saxons, in making his escape.


Celts and Saxons

At the beginning of the episode, we witness a very unpleasant reaction from one of the women in Arthur’s village, to the two Saxon children: “No woman here is going to mother them. That boat is holed and sinking – lash those Saxon brats to the boards and send them down with it!”

Later, we learn some of the reasons the Celts and Saxons don’t get along. Kai accuses the Saxons: “You despoil our forests. You cut down our trees. You drive out the wild boar which is the food of life to us.” The Saxons are farmers, the Celts, hunters; both raid each other’s villages.

As Ulrich and his Elders decide what to do with Kai, we see that the young Saxon woman, Hildred, doesn’t have much faith in the justice of her own people; she pre-empts her father’s decision, by helping Kai escape. When Kai learns that he is to be set free – and that his Saxon guard died for nothing – he is clearly perturbed.

On Kai’s return, Arthur is in a sombre mood, telling Kai, “Wear that wound proudly, Kai. That is the only gift you will ever receive from the Saxons.”

But to Arthur’s annoyance, Kai has learned that the Saxons are not all bad: “They are men like us, and like us, they also believe in justice.” Arthur says that if the positions had been reversed, “The Celts would have held council. The lawgiver would have decided the case.” But Kai dares to suggest that the Saxon justice system is fairer than that of the Celts, because “There, every man was heard.”

Perhaps his final statement – “they gave me … a gift of life” – is an acknowledgement not only of those in Ulrich’s village who spared his life, but of the fact that he was born a Saxon.


"By the Gods!"


Hald twice says, “By all the gods”: once when he sees the children are alive and well, and again when he learns that Kai has come from a Celt village, but we are not told the names of any of these gods.


Dark Age Men

When Hildred steps up to defend Kai, Ulrich says that “women may not be heard.” But in Saxon society, women had equal standing, within the community; they owned property, were often educated, and were sometimes buried with weapons.


The best laid plans …

Sending Kai to a Saxon encampment doesn’t seem one of Arthur’s most brilliant plans.

Kai teaches the children a secret whistle in case they need to call for help, and this later proves critical to his own survival. He – very sensibly – tries to avoid going into the Saxon village, telling the children to go on ahead of him.

But neither Kai nor Arthur gave the children any coaching as to what they should tell the Saxons about where they have been, or with whom.


Great moments

Krist’s refusal to be over-awed by Arthur, or by his precarious situation, demanding, “What’s yours?” when asked his name. Also, the way he protects his sister from the harsh truth, saying that their parents “had to leave us.”

Kai, grumpily repairing Elka’s doll, and the look he gives her when she thanks him.

Arthur’s anxious look as Kai and the children ride away.

Kai’s ‘typical grown-up’ response to Krist’s enquiry about why it’s dangerous country: “Because it is!”

The triumphant procession of Kai and the children into the village.

Elka, setting her Saxon foster parents straight about the Celts: “And they’re NOT savages. They’re NICE.”

The children helping Kai onto his horse, and Elka’s quick thinking in distracting one of his pursuers.


Quote/unquote

Kai has most of the best lines:

"Why couldn’t you – feed the squirrels before we left?"

"I’ve killed only those who would have killed me."

"They are men like us, and like us, they also believe in justice."


The burden and loneliness of command

The burden must feel especially heavy when your people are demanding the execution of children. The Celts leave Arthur with little choice but to risk losing Kai, by sending him into enemy territory. Arthur looks pensive as he watches Kai and the children leave, and cuts a lonely figure as he heads back into the longhouse. Perhaps another reason he sends Kai to the Saxon village is to give him the chance to return to his own people, if that is what he wants.


'A man on a horse is worth ten on foot'

Arthur rides Bernie into the village, while Kai rides Merlin. Merlin also carries Kai, along with both children, to Ulrich's village. On the return journey, Kai rides Merlin's's stand-in, Smudge.

The Celt horseman who rides in saying that the Saxons are coming back, rides James.

See this post for further details of the horses of "Arthur of the Britons."


‘That is bloody dangerous!’

Kai goes to the Saxon village armed with a sword; he never gets to use it in combat, but has to fight barehanded against his guard, as well as Horgren and another of his pursuers, all of whom are armed.

Most of the Saxons carry axes. Hald jubilantly embeds his in a fence post on his way into the village, and Horgren later grabs it on his way past, in pursuit of Kai. The guards all carry spears, and one of them stabs himself with his own knife.


Dressed to kill?

At the beginning of the episode, Kai is wearing a brown smock-type shirt, and a big cloak, which had previously seen service on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” season 2, episode 7: The Attila the Hun Show, broadcast in 1970. Kai also wore this cloak at the beginning of “Arthur is Dead”, and in later episodes.

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Longboat (13) No good with children (4)

Arthur is wearing a brown tunic with light brown trim like the one he wore in “The Challenge.” However, this tunic – or one very like it – was ruined during the fight with Kai. It’s possible that the final fight scenes from “The Challenge” were filmed after this scene – or that two similar tunics were made by the wardrobe department.

For his journey to the Saxon village, Kai wears his studded tunic, with a bit of sheepskin slung over the shoulder, to make him look more like a Saxon, but he doesn’t leave his furry boot covers behind. During the feast, Kai is no longer wearing the sheepskin.

Though most of the Saxon men wear white sheepskins – which must have been extremely uncomfortable in midsummer – the higher-ranking men like Ulrich seem to wear fur.

In comparison to the dull and dirty clothes the Celt villagers wear, the Saxon women are clad in summery pastel-coloured dresses.

No good with children (5) Welcome (18)

At the end of the episode, Arthur is wearing what appears to be a dark blue woolly bathrobe, and Kai is clad in just his cloak, and a rather unsanitary-looking bandage!


On the table

The Saxon feast consists of various fruits and vegetables, bread, and what might be a pig, roasting on a spit. As Kai lies in his sickbed, he has been provided with apples, a leg of something, and an enormous bunch of grapes.


Honourable mention …

… for the magnificent efforts of the Celt villagers to put out some very nasty-looking fires; also, the horse that safely carries Kai, Krist and Elka – all of whom do a fine job.


What’s going on here?

It seems a bit odd that Krist, a Saxon child, is carrying a wooden sword, rather than an axe, but Kai’s decision to go to Ulrich’s village armed with a sword doesn’t elicit any comment from the Saxons, so perhaps these things were sometimes left to individual choice.

This is the first episode in which we see what appear to be obvious tyre tracks – though it could be argued they were made by cartwheels.

The Journey (52)

When Kai arrives in Ulrich’s village, the women come running from their work in the fields. The men then come from the village, where they were doing …. what, exactly?

Hildred says that the minstrel only knows one song – the one about having room in his house for a wife – but the minstrel himself claims he sings a song about Kai’s “great fight” with Arthur, so perhaps Hildred was joking!

Krist complains about being put to bed early, but later, when Kai escapes, he and Elka are fully dressed, and up and about.

Kai doesn’t seem surprised that the horse he finds tied to the tree after his escape is not the one he left there, earlier in the day!

The Journey (18) Escaping (59)

Arthur seems unreasonably cross with Kai on his return – as if he volunteered to go and get himself into trouble!

And is that a matchbox on the shelf?

Welcome home (7)


Music

According to the cast list, the Saxon minstrel is played by Meic Stevens, though he is using a different voice to the one he used when he was playing Arthur’s minstrel, in “Arthur is Dead.”

Some of the 34 tracks of incidental music, beautifully written and orchestrated for the series by Paul Lewis, used in this episode, were:

26. Evil Stirs: the Celts watch the Saxon longboat approach the jetty
33. Springtime: the Saxon children appear from the bottom of the boat; Kai and the children ride away from the village and through the countryside.
13. In All Weathers: Krist feeds Kai’s horse some grass; Kai looks for the children.
29. Pastoral Episode: Kai and the children enter Ulrich’s village.
26. Evil Stirs: Hildred helps Kai cut his bonds; Ulrich comes to give judgement.
12. Duel: Kai escapes.
10. Battle on horseback: Kai and Horgren fight.
29. Pastoral Episode: the children help Kai onto his horse, and watch as he rides away.

The whole suite of music, written by Paul Lewis, is available on CD.


Cast

Arthur ……………... Oliver Tobias
Kai .….….….……… Michael Gothard
Horgen …………...... Stephan Chase
Hildred …................. Heather Wright
Ulrich ………..…..... Kenneth Benda
Krist ……….…….... Sean Fleming
Elka ……………...... Tamzin Neville
Hald ………………. Geoffrey Adams
Minstrel …………… Meic Stevens
Celt Villager .……… Roger Forbes
Horseman ……......... Sean McCauley

Crew

Director ……………... Pat Jackson
Writer ……………...... Terence Feely
Executive Producer ….. Patrick Dromgoole
Producer ……………... Peter Miller
Associate Producer ….. John Peverall
Production Manager ..... Keith Evans
Post-production ...…..... Barry Peters
Fight Arranger ……...... Peter Brayham
Incidental music ……... Paul Lewis
Theme music ……….... Elmer Bernstein
Cameraman ………….. Bob Edwards
Camera Operator ……. Brian Morgan
Editor ……………….. Dave Samuel-Camps
Sound recordist ……... Mike Davey
Dubbing mixer ……… John Cross
Art Director …………. Doug James
Assistant Director …… Keith Knott
Production Assistant … Patti Belcher
Costume Design …….. Audrey MacLeod
Make-up …………….. Christine Penwarden
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Arthur of the Britons

August 2015

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