This Arthurian legend has been passed down through the centuries as a fable of noble knights fighting for justice and peace. Their king, King Arthur, symbolizes everything that is good and pure living in his majestic castle, Camelot. His tale is both inspiring and tragic. Even though the kingdom under his rule is great, his personal life has many flaws. His story is a reminder that with great success and happiness, it is always accompanied with great suffering and sadness. King Arthur’s tale has been told many times, both on television and on the big screen. But there is only one film that I feel really captures the mystical, mythical, and magical world of the Boy King. Excalibur.
In 1981, Excalibur was released to mix reviews, and grossed about 34 million dollars opening weekend. Everything that a kid ever dreamed of is in this film: knights, sword fighting, and magic. Even though this film relates to the child inside of you, the theme and feel of this picture is not for the faint of heart. It is very gory, gritty, and has a lot of sexual situations that are not appropriate for children under 17. But nevertheless, the film transports you to a place where magic and political power work hand in hand. Everyone wants the throne and will do anything to get it, even going to war. Excalibur has a very dark shadowy tone when it comes to expressing the countryside, plus the cinematography is spectacular. This film is shot in Ireland, so there are a lot of grasslands and hills to give this film a very rural and realistic setting.
Every character from the Arthurian legend is told with unbelievable grace with the performances by a wonderful cast of experienced actors and actresses. Nigel Terry, who plays the Boy king uses his innocence and enthusiasm to give Arthur a complex personality that desires everything he sees. Nicol Williamson plays Merlin. He gives Merlin a wonderfully amusing personality that hides his vast knowledge of the cosmos under his dark cloak, which he always wears with great playfulness. Lancelot is played brilliantly by Nicholas Clay, and last but not least Guinevere. Cherie Lunghi gives this classic maidin the innocence and troublesome lustful desires that we all know and love about her. Helen Mirren who plays Morgan Le Fay, definitely takes her character to the next level and utilizes her sex appeal and manipulation to achieve total power over Arthur and Camelot.
Everybody knows the story of King Arthur and his love triangle with Lancelot and Guinevere, but what Excalibur did, is to give the scenery and the landscape a life of its own. The land is part of the Arthurian folklore and it needs to express how Arthur’s destiny and power is affecting his kingdom. The armor and the castle, Camelot, glitter and shine in every scene with the brightness of chrome and a hint of jade in the mix. The soundtrack is also done with great eeriness and mystery to compliment the dark brooding nature of the theme.
The film also touches on the legend of the Holy Grail, the Lady of the Lake, and the sword, Excalibur itself. They all hold the key to giving the King his power and destiny to defeat and overcome evil, and immortalize Arthur’s story forever. The story of Lancelot and Guinevere betraying Arthur teaches us that no matter how bad the situation appears to be, loyalty and love will always triumph. In the end of movie, Arthur forgives Lancelot and restores his respect and faith in him before he dies on the battleground. Arthur also forgives Guinevere as well before he dies in battle as well.
Many films about King Arthur show different parts of his life. First Knight shows us a King Arthur in his senor citizen days ready for retirement. The Last Legion shows us where the young Uther Pendragon originated from and how Arthur came to England. King Arthur depicts a middle age roman soldier named Arturius that defies the Catholic Church in order to protect the British people from the Saxons. There is even a British television show where we see Arthur as a young prince ruling beside his father and his trusty servant, Merlin, which coincidentally the show is called Merlin. But this film Excalibur spans Arthur’s life from childhood to a grown man. His story is told with great care and respect.
The Arthurian legend will never get old. It will be told for many generations as a reminder that there are lessons within this epic tale of the Boy King and his trusty Knights of the Roundtable. King Arthur will always represent the ultimate inspiration of becoming something greater. I can watch this film and never get bored. The imagery, the costumes, the performances, the music, all fit together to tell a story that will be remembered forever.