Lord Vortigern is the secondary antagonist in the 1998 television-film "Merlin" by Steve Barron. He is based on a tyrannic King of Britain during Medieval times and is the first human antagonist the wizard Merlin faces during the days before the legendary King Arthur.
He was portrayed by the late Rutger Hauer who also played Roy Batty in Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi thriller "Blade Runner", master-vampire Kurt Barlow in the 2004 remake of Stephen King's "Salem's Lot" and Cardinal Roark in Frank Miller's 2005 film version of "Sin City".
In the film, Lord Vortigern is shown as the first antagonist. He kills his predecessor, the King Constant, and betrays him by ambushing him in his castle and Constant, knowing he has been betrayed, says "I curse you all" before Vortigern kills him by decapitation. Then Vortigern picks up the crown through narration by Merlin that says "sometimes the crown led to another... even worse."
Vortigern is now the evil warlord of Britain and uses his hatemongering to enslave thousands and he hates the opposing Normans. He drives many out of Britain and then he manages to have no enemies, apart from Lord Uther who landed with a Norman army. Lord Vortigern is a nihilist, and he mocks the Christian faith that King Uther follows by saying "They only kill when it suits them."
He is seduced by the power of Queen Mab, who urges him to win because he is a tyrant and will make her power stronger. Lord Vortigern commands Merlin to come to solve his problem of why his castle always collapses and he shows him the dragon prophecy of the Normans winning. Then, Lord Vortigern is informed Uther has arrived.
He prepares for the battle and almost converts to Mab in the process, but refuses to completely, even though Queen Mab gives him one of her magical tears which she says will keep him safe. Mab's sister the Lady of the Lake gives Merlin Exaclibur, to fight Vortigern. Merlin also gives the frozen lake as a battle site. Then he and Vortigern face on opposing sides to fight. Vortigern comments to Uther that he is a traitor and has changed sides. During the battle, Vortigern is approached by Merlin who says he will kill him. He smashes the frozen ice with Excalibur, causing a shocked Vortigern to sink into the lake to drown to death.
Rutger Hauer on playing Lord Vortigern (Mania Magazine, 1997):
“Vortigern, the character that I play, is a big King, he’s been a king for 25 years and he has no qualms about it. In those times you didn’t become king by voting, you became king by grabbing the crown.
It was difficult to find accurate information about Lord Vortigern. It was kind of rough, because there’s not a whole lot written about that period. At the same time, there are seven different versions of the same events.
It was very nice to see how much craft went into it – into the costumes and the horses and the sets and all that kind of stuff. Everything has to be built, of course, and it was very nice.”