King Arthur

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     I've always had a thing for King Arthur, Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus. I was attracted to the "real" King Arthur who lived not in Norman England, but much earlier in the 5th century when the Romans were pulling out and the Saxons were invading.  It's all a bit controversial, but there was a guy named Arthur, referred to as the Dux Bellorum, or leader of war. He is never referred to as a king. He may have organized several of the small kingdoms to fight the Saxons together. There is some evidence that the Saxon invasion slowed for a couple of decades. And there is a list of battles he won including one at Badon Hill. No one knows where that is. And there's a cool hill fort that was rebuilt and occupied at the the right time, called South Cadbury Castle, which might be Camelot. I went there and walked to the top of the hill. i also went to Glastonbury (reputedly Avalon) and Tintagel Castle, where Arthur was supposedly conceived. Tintagel Castle is amazing. Read the description of Arthur's conception at Tintagel Castle in The Crystal Cave, one of my favorite books. These places are all worth a visit even if you aren't an Arthur-ophile.

      Ok, you get the idea. Well, there's a new movie called, King Arthur, which purports to tell the "true" story, i.e. it is set in the right era. But beyond that, who knows what the true story is? This new movie tries to place the action in the 5th century, while retaining some of the aspects of the Arthurian legend, but only some.  In King Arthur, Arthur (Clive Owen) is a Roman soldier serving on Hadrian's Wall (also a cool place to visit). He and his "knights", Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), and Bors (Ray Winstone) are finishing up their 15 year stints in the army and planning their retirements. But they are sent on one last mission to save a Roman family about to be captured by the Saxons, led by Cedric (Stellan Skarsgård) and his wussy son (Til Schweiger). While saving the Roman family, the knights also happen to save a local Pictish lass, named Guinevere (Keira Knightley), who has cool tattoos, likes to wear woad a la Mel Gibson in Braveheart, and pulls a mean bow. The Picts are led by a mysterious Magician (Stephen Dillane) named, Merlin. The rest, as they say, is history.

    This movie is a huge improvement on the last attempt at a King Arthur movie, First Knight, which starred Sean Connery and Richard Gere.  That movie was an abomination for Arthur-ophiles, since the only similarity to the Arthur story was in the names of the characters. In King Arthur, Arthur and his knights are recognizably their legendary selves. He falls in love with Guinevere, fights the Saxons, pulls a sword from a stone, has a round table, and is an all around good guy. But, there's no Mordred, no Morgan la Fay, no love triangle with Lancelot, no quest for the Holy Grail and no Avalon. Arthur has no tragic flaw.

    But all that aside, the movie is just not very good. I loved the knights. They are very entertaining. The only one that you will recognize is Ray Winstone (Last Orders, Sexy Beast, Cold Mountain). Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, Dogville) almost steals the movie as Cedric. He is fantastic as the Saxon King who just wants to kill everyone he meets. Knightly does a nice feisty job as Guinevere, and she looks great in woad. Clive Owen is ok, but the weight of being the good King Arthur drives him into one-dimensional character territory. But mostly, it's the script and the direction that drag King Arthur down. It was directed by Antoine Fuqua, the onetime music video director who made the big time with Training Day. King Arthur looks good and the action stuff is pretty good, but when the characters start to talk, it's zzzzzz. I don't want to spoil King Arthur for you, but the Arthurian legend is a tragedy, so you can't have a happy ending, even if you kill off a few knights of the round table.