2004 – King Arthur

by Alan Rapp on July 7, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: King Arthur
  • IMDb: link

King ArthurReleased in 1981, John Boorman‘s Excalibur remains the standard against which every King Arthur film is measured. Setting itself apart, Antoine Fuqua‘s film (released in theaters 10 years ago today) chose to ignore the more mystical and mythological aspects of the King Arthur legend while providing a more grounded version set during the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.

Here Arthur (Clive Owen) is a half-Celtic Roman cavalry officer in charge of a select group of indentured knights: Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Dragonet (Ray Stevenson), and Bors (Ray Winstone). Rome’s withdrawal should mean the end to their service, but the group is tasked with final mission to rescue an important Roman family from the invading Saxon horde. The result of which will spill the blood of Arthur’s knights, introduce him the Welsh warrior princess Guinevere (Keira Knightley) and her father Merlin (Stephen Dillane) – Arthur sworn enemy, and change the course of his destiny.

Fuqua makes the best of his cast turning Gruffudd in a bona fide action star and allowing Owen’s acting chops to layer this complex version of the character who sees his dreams of Rome shattered. With the absence of magic, King Arthur relies on cultural choices to explain the various pieces of Arthur’s mythology such as the round table (a representation of the Rome Arthur desperately clings to but no longer exists) and drawing the sword from stone (here the sword is the standing grave marker for his fallen father).

Knightley is well-cast as Guinevere although the length of the film doesn’t offer much of an opportunity to play on the classic love triangle which is only teased and not explored. Choosing to make the character into a warrior further separates King Arthur from other adaptations and gives Knightley a second film in which to show off her archery skills.

King Arthur

In terms of villains the movie offers two sets. The first is Bishop Germanus (Ivano Marescotti) whose actions begin forcing Arthur to question his loyalty to Rome. The second are the invading Saxon horde, murdering and plundering their way south. Stellan Skarsgård makes for an imposing villain as the leader of the Saxons and Til Schweiger works well as his disappointing son who Arthur gets the better of despite smaller numbers and the need to protect an entire caravan of civilians he refused to abandon to the Saxons.

Not without some dark humor, the best example of which involves the priests inside the catacombs where Arthur finds Guinevere, the movie balances action, drama, and even a bit of romance while working its way to a final bloody battle between the Arthur-led Picts and the Saxon army. Available in an extended director’s cut on both DVD and Blu-ray, film has aged well (in some ways better than Excalibur) and should be of interest to anyone interested in either Arthurian legend or period action movies which take the time to offer some brains along with the bloodshed.

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