King Arthur (8/10)
2004 by Tony Medley
At no point in this
film does Guinevere (Keira Knightley) turn to King Arthur (Clive Owen)
and ask, “What do the simple folk do?” Nor does Lancelot (Ioan
Gruffudd) say, “C’est moi!” or bring someone back from the dead.
Nor does Merlin (Stephan Dillane) live his life backward.
Indeed, this is a
King Arthur you’ve never seen before, one that Producer Jerry
Bruckheimer, Director Antoine Fuqua and screenwriter David Franzoni have
tried to make as historically accurate as possible, given the fact that
little is known about the Fifth and Sixth Century A.D., the time many
think that the person lived upon whom the Arthurian legend is based. In
fact, the only thing you’ll see in this film that will seem familiar
is the Round Table, even though there are only six knights who join
Arthur at it.
Arthur (real name
Lucius Artorius Castus, an actual historic personage from the Fifth
Century) is a half Roman, half-British descendant of a Roman warrior,
who was a Roman ruler of Britain in the Second Century. His small band
of knights is ready to be returned to Rome after 15 years in Britain.
But a Bishop arrives from Rome to tell them they have one more task to
fulfill, rescuing a Roman family outside Hadrian’s Wall (which
protects Roman Britain) which will bring them in conflict with the
invading Saxon horde led by the cruel Cedric (Stellan Skarsgard).
This causes them to link up with the native Woads who are led by
Merlin, who has a daughter named Guinevere. This Guinevere is closer to
one of Charlie's Angels than Julie Andrews, a fighter by nature. All
this is the setup for the climactic Battle of Badon Hill.
Because it was the
Dark Ages and little was written, whether or not this battle actually
took place is debatable. A British historian named Gildas wrote around
550 A.D. of the Battle of Mynydd Baddon, which, according to him,
resulted in decades of freedom from Saxon hordes. Bruckheimer and
Company place the happenings in the Fifth Century, but most historians
date the Battle, if it occurred, at 500 A.D. or later, which would make
it the Sixth Century. Gildas doesn’t mention the winning commander,
but a later historian, Nennius, wrote about it several centuries later
and mentions that the war leader was Arthur, and the Arthurian legend
was born. Bruckheimer and company have included all the well known
knights of the legend to this story. Who knows? This is certainly more
believable than Richard Burton and Julie Andrews singing their way
Owen has done his
phlegmatic hero so many times now he can mail it in. This film is no
exception. He’s a Richard Burton clone without the charisma (and
what’s wrong with that?), but for this role he’s perfect. He’s not
helped by Franzoni, who gives him some hopelessly melodramatic lines to
utter. Owen is better when he’s the strong silent type, with the
emphasis on the latter.
The film isn’t
perfect. In the climactic battle that takes up the last half hour of the
film, there are thousands of men and one woman, Guinevere. The men are
all dressed in armor with shields and protective covering. Guinevere
dashes in clothed in little more than a flimsy bustier. While the men
are demolished one by one in violent hand-to-hand combat (Nennius claims
that 960 men died, all killed by Arthur alone!), Guinevere emerges with
little more than a few scratches. Also, if they’re interested in
historical accuracy, historians will say that their scenes of Arthur and
his knights attacking on horses could not have happened in the Fifth
Century. If they fought, all the fighters would have been on the ground.
But even with these
criticisms, rather than magnificent castles filled with knights romantic
and damsels beautifully clothed, King Arthur brings us a view of
life much closer to reality. Everyone wears the same clothes all the
time. They’re dirty. The weather’s bad. The only thing that I
thought was unrealistic was Keira Knightly’s portrayal of Guinevere.
Even when she’s dirty she’s beautiful. And she’s not dirty for
very long. The film never explains how she got where she was when Arthur
The film also raises
a 1600 year-old controversy about Christian theology by bringing up the
conflict between St. Augustine and Pelagius, which is interesting, but
too esoteric to get into in this review. Since the film raises the
subject it might be helpful for you to know that Pelagius rejected the
concept of Original Sin and claimed that man can achieve grace through
free will and without the Church and its priests; Augustine believed in
Original Sin and the necessity of the Church for salvation. For the
record, the Arthur in this film says he is on the side of Pelagius, who
was branded a heretic by the Church (although his ideas were accepted by
churches in the East). This is clearly fantasy since little is known of
the historical Lucius Artorius Castus, and certainly nothing is known of
his theological ideas. What this has to do with the story of King Arthur
and why it’s raised in the movie is a puzzlement.
While the costuming
(Penny Rose) looks fairly authentic, in the final scenes when Guinevere
is getting married…in the wilds…on a bluff overlooking the ocean…,
she’s in a gown that looks as if it came straight from Donna Karin.
that, this is an entertaining new look at an old story. It’s a movie;
it’s fiction; and I enjoyed it.
June 30, 2004