When you think about it, what is the collective conception of the Arthurian legend?
Well, it’s a myth, for one thing, and an achingly Pre-Raphaelite one at that: a sword magically buried in the stone; the lady of the lake holding aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water; the ambivalent wiles of Merlin, a magician who has slept under a rock for a hundred years; a Merovingian Easter-egg hunt for the Holy Grail; the nasty skulduggery of Merlin’s sister Morgana Le Fay; and finally the illictly, tragically requited love between Guinevere and Lancelot. All good, stirring stuff, if you like that kind of thing.
Now imagine how it would play if you took all of that away and were told instead that Arthur was a stony-faced Roman Centurion, his knights a band of cockney-sounding eastern European slaves (shades of an anarcho-syndicalist commune, I couldn’t help thinking), Merlin a hairy, daubed (literally!) savage, and Guinevere a sort of skimpily attired, malnourished, blue, Xena Warrior Princess?
Doesn’t sound much chop, does it?
And nor is it. (Well, all right, the skimpy warrior princess bit isn’t *all* bad). It’s not helped by less-than-imaginative borrowing from Braveheart, Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, Black Hawk Down, and the Lord of the Rings instalments, nor the wheeling in of yet another member of Clannad to sing the theme tune, nor the credulity-taxing back story involving Sarmatian knights who, with Ray Winstone in their midst, sound more East London than East Europe.
Fundamentally, the Arthur story is only interesting as romantic myth. Thus, David Franzoni’s justification of the film’s historical accuracy on this site misses the point: La Morte d’Arthur is a great story; King Arthur: The Director’s Cut is not. By purporting to take all the hocus pocus away, Franzoni has jettisoned anything of any real interest or point (unless you’re prepared to see this as some sort of allegory for the Iraq War and, frankly, I’m not).
King Arthur ultimately can’t hold a candle to Excalibur, and even that reading must pay fealty to the greatest exploration of the Arthurian legend of them all. Graham Chapman’s remains the definitive Arthur, with or without the violence inherent in the system.
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Stars: Clive Owen, Stephen Dillane, Keira Knightley
Runtime: 126 min
Country: USA, UK