Charlie Hunman Jude Law Djimon Hounsou Eric Bana Astrid Berges-Frisbey Aiden Gillen
Do we need another movie about the Arthurian Legend? Apparently, Guy Ritchie thinks so, because he has helped write and has directed this movie about the origins of King Arthur. After opening scenes of intrigue and murder (which are only clear much later in the film), we see Arthur as a street kid brought up in a brothel, unaware of his lineage. When his father, King Uther (Bana) realizes that he is in mortal danger from Uther’s brother, Vortigan (Law), who covets the crown, he secrets the child away in a boat, covered with furs. When the boat arrives to its destination, the women in the brothel scurrying for furs find him underneath, and adopt him as their own.
Arthur is a scrappy street kid, bullied but never bowed, and eventually gets in enough trouble that he is confronted by a sword in a stone near the palace of King Vortigan. Unbeknownst to him, Vortigan, knowing he has a nephew who is heir to the crown, has done two things. He conscripts all young boys to serve in his army so he can gain their ultimate loyalty. He also knows that the Excalibur sword, lodged between two large stones, can only be withdrawn by the heir to the British throne, e.g., his nephew. All young men visiting his castle are required try to pull out the sword so Vortigan can identify his potential challenger.
Mixed into the story is a mage (Berges-Frisbey) who guides the reluctant Arthur to his rightful place. She has special powers that can bring on a host of crows to attack the enemy, snakes that can prove the worthiness of Arthur for royalty, and so on. But Arthur is probably the most reluctant hero in the history of literature. Even after he successfully pulls Excalibur out of the stone he eschews being lauded for it and must be reminded continually by the mage that he has a calling that cannot be denied. She has considerable powers, but in the end, she has to say that only until Arthur sees its importance to him on his own, will the sword be viable.
Ritchie has produced an extravaganza that is redolent with medieval history and lore, and the special effects used to enhance the mythological experience are achieved by John Mathieson, cinematographer, production designer Gemma Jackson, and other technological specialists. Some aspects of the film are not apparent in their value/meaning, such as the firings into the air that produce black clouds, and the mage not being able to save herself when a knife is on her throat, yet is able to overcome huge attacking armies. She doesn’t have the power simply to fly away?
If you’re comfortable with the Arthur character looking and sounding like a regular American good guy, you are likely going to praise Hunman’s performance as Arthur. And I certainly laud his acting ability, but I think the role called for a more British kind of hero who does not look/sound so American. That kept taking me out of the medieval mood of the film. I also thought Jude Law was miscast as the villain Vortigan; he doesn’t convey sufficient evil for that character. He is much more effective in the recent TV production, “The Young Pope”, where he is a bit devilish and unconventional. Astrid Berges-Frisbey is spot-on as the mage, an occult seer to guide the naïve Arthur toward his destiny. Aiden Gillen, Eric Bana, and Djimon Hounsou are first-rate actors who add considerably to the vision of this film.
Of interest to those who do not tire of Arthurian tales.
Grade: C By Donna R. Copeland