Long Live the King

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    Oct 06, 2012
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After a long week of work and stress, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoying a good movie.  But then there’s always the agonizing decision of what film to choose.  Well, let me take a few moments to throw out a few suggestions of some great medieval flicks, pertaining to the Arthurian legends.  You know what I’m talking about…the love triangle (between Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere), the Knights of the Round Table, Excalibur, Merlin the Wizard, etc.  Through the decades, many film adaptations have been made based on the Arthurian legends.  Some are traditional while others take liberties.  It would take years to discuss them all, but here a few noteworthy titles to consider. 

It has been said that “life’s a happy song”; well, this is definitely the case with one of the earlier Arthurian legends based films, Camelot, a musical adaptation of the Broadway play of the same name.  Directed by Joshua Logan, with music and lyrics by My Fair Lady’s Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe, this classic stars Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot. 

Based on T.H. White’s trilogy The Once and Future King, this is a traditional retelling of the Arthurian legends, highlighting the marriage between Arthur and Guinevere, which is disrupted upon the arrival of Lancelot.  The antagonist here is Mordred, the king’s illegitimate son, who threatens to steal the throne.  What makes this film distinct from the other Arthurian films is its pageantry, the lavish costumes, catchy songs, exhilarating dancing, and visual tapestry, which was top notch for its day.  Winner of three Academy Awards (Best Art Direction, Best Costumes, and Best Score), Camelot promises to be a pleasurable viewing experience for everyone. 

When it comes to the young and the young at heart, the 1963 animated film The Sword in the Stone is the one to satisfy.  This was Walt Disney’s 18th animated classic and dare I say, the most popular animated film, based on the Arthurian legends.  Based on T.H. White’s book bearing the same title, the story focuses on Arthur’s childhood, prior to becoming king.  Standing out from other Arthurian movies, Merlin is a very prominent character in this tale.  He serves as Arthur’s teacher and helps him to eventually assume the throne.  This tale features fun songs, bright colors, and memorable characters that have gone on to surface in other Disney themed media (especially Merlin).  There is also a nice dose of humor and a whole lot of magic, making this work a timeless treasure.    

If romance is your aim, then the 1995 film First Knight is the name you will want to check out.  Directed by Jerry Zucker and starring Sean Connery as King Arthur, Julia Ormond as Guinevere, and Richard Gere as Lancelot, this film, very loosely based on the Arthurian legends, recounts the sweeping romance between Lancelot and Guinevere, who is due to marry Arthur.  Thus, what follows is a test of faithfulness, betrayal, and true love.  In the midst of these dealings of the heart, Arthur and his knights must fight for power from the violent warlord, Sir Malagant. 

Based on the material of the French poet, Chretien de Troyes (who contributed much to the Arthurian legends), this cinematic work is set apart by its exclusion of magical elements and the significant age difference between Arthur and Guinevere.  While First Knight received mixed critic reviews, it is held up well over the years and continues to remain a fan favorite.     

For those of you who have a hankering for a little more history and solid action sequences, you may enjoy the 2004 film King Arthur, directed by Antone Fuqua and starring Clive Owen in the title role, Keira Knightley as Guinevere, and Ivan Gruffudd as Lancelot.  This film takes a more realistic glimpse into the Arthurian stories, focusing on the historical and political aspects of the time after the Roman Empire had collapsed and countries were fighting for power. 

Here, Arthur is portrayed as a Roman officer, a departure from the traditional position of being a medieval knight.  With the exception of the Battle of Badon and the Saxons as Arthur’s enemy, the plot is original.  Other alterations to the film include the portrayal of Guinevere as a Celtic warrior queen (not a damsel in distress), minimal focus on the love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere, the exclusion of the Holy Grail, and different characterizations of the knights.  While not as faithful to the Arthurian legends as other films, King Arthur offers a unique perspective into what could have been.    

As you can see, King Arthur and his knights have given us a wide array of films and I can guarantee there’s something for everyone. 

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