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King Arthur Movies

The movies on this page each tell stories of Merlin, the great sword Excalibur, the triumph of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, the love triangle of Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere, and ultimate destruction of the dream of Camelot through the machinations of Mordred.

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King Arthur
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King Arthur (2004)
Directed by Antoine Fugua, starring Clive Owen and Kiera Knightley

Since it's not really possible to say something nice about this film, we won't try. In their efforts to create a so-called "historical" King Arthur movie, the producers have managed to go further than any prior film in completing ignoring the Arthurian legend. Without the tragedy of Arthur's life, which everyone knows is coming and expects to happen, nothing is left but a morally bankrupt, politically correct fight film, without any inherent value whatsoever. However, if you just want to look at Keira Knightley in her "historical" (haha) leather outfit, by all means go for it.
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Excalibur (1981)
Directed by John Boorman, starring Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, and Helen Mirren (supporting actors include Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Stewart)

Stunning retelling of the classic legend of Excalibur taken from the stories in Malory's Morte de Arthur - Merlin passes the sword to Arthur, who becomes king and embroiled with unfaithful wife Guinevere, enchantress Morgana, and evil son Mordred. Dark and powerful scenes of combat and magic. Gorgeous special effects in light and color - a beautiful film, filled with symbolism and true to Malory's vision.

Probably the best and most faithful King Arthur film yet made - true to the unconquerable spirit of the eternal king, remarkably filmed and well-acted. We viewed it again just recently and were again amazed at how strongly we fell into the grip of this timeless story.
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Merlin (1998)
Directed by Steve Barron, starring Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Helena Bonham Carter, Martin Short, Isabella Rossellini, Rutger Hauer

This tale is a hodgepodge of ancient Welsh myth, the Mary Stewart books, general Arthurian legend, and everything else the writers decided to throw in. The general theme seemed to be the impossibility and undesirability of clinging to old beliefs in the face of new; ie, the passing of the age of faery for the age of Christianity.

The guys in our house liked it, and, truthfully, the male performers did well, particularly Rutger Hauer as Vortigern and Martin Short as Frik. Sam Neill makes a wonderful Merlin - sexy and safe, powerful and sensitive, all at the same time. Unfortunately for Paul Curran as Arthur, the script called for him to be a namby-pamby twit - the worst portrayal of Arthur I have ever seen.

However, I was especially bothered by the female characters. The bad girls (Queen Mab and Morgan) were both given bizarre speech impediments, while the good (or sort of good) girls, Guinevere, Igraine, Elaine, etc., all looked just alike and belonged on the cover of a magazine. Ouch! And here I am trying to sell you the movie. The best female performance was by Isabella Rossellini as Nimue, Merlin's true love, but even she was pretty wimpy.

Anyway, a mixed bag, in my opinion, though on the whole I enjoyed it and you probably would, too. Some great special effects, and beautiful visuals (filmed in Wales). Originally a four-hour miniseries for TV.
First Knight
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First Knight (1995)
Directed by Jerry Zucker, starring Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, Ben Cross

A purely medieval, highly Christianized take on the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, with Camelot looking like a fairy-tale castle cut out of cardboard (very stylized, very lovely).

There is enough swordplay to engage the guys, including a terrific battle scene with the mounted knights forming a wedge as they race downhill. Tension is provided by Ben Cross as Prince Malagant, who wants to usurp the throne - but the Knights of the Round Table are up to the challenge.

Connery, Gere and Ormond are three extremely attractive actors and do the best they can with a somewhat trivial script. Several romantic love scenes between Lancelot (Gere looks good) and Guinevere (Ormond looks good). Pure romance, nicely done. They have, for once, provided a happy ending.
The Mists of Avalon
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The Mists of Avalon (2001)
Directed by Uli Edel, starring Anjelica Huston, Joan Allen, Julianna Margulies

Marion Zimmer Bradley's magnum opus Mists of Avalon turned the traditional world of Arthurian legend upside down and spoke to the hearts of many women. In her version, Morgaine is the heroine, the old religion is the good religion, Christianity is bad, and the world is run by the powerful women of the mystic Isle of Avalon - Viviane, the Lady of the Lake (Anjelica Huston), the manipulative and ambitious Morgause (Joan Allen), and the good sister Morgaine (Julianna Margulies).

Considering it was made as a television miniseries, this is a good adaptation of the book, with fine performances by all three women in the leading roles.
Camelot Special Edition
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Camelot (1967)
Directed by Joshua Logan, starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero

Some might quibble that the actors in the film version don't sing as well as those on the stage (Robert Goulet, Julie Andrews), but I love this movie and all its music. Camelot captures the timeless story of an enchanted age and the power of love.

Act I (or rather the first half of the movie) is light-hearted and gay as Guinevere takes her place as queen and wins the hearts of Arthur and his knights. When the conceited Lancelot arrives, she seeks to humiliate him and is herself overcome with awe when his prowess and piety prove genuine.

The second half of the movie is much darker, as Lancelot and Guinevere struggle with the guilt of their forbidden love, Mordred arranges their betrayal, and Arthur is forced to watch as his marriage and his kingdom crumble.

Music by Lerner and Loewe. Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave at their absolute best. A classic musical - wonderful, wonderful movie.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
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Monty Python and the Holy Grail - Special Edition (1975)
Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones and starring the Monty Python guys - Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin

With Monty Python and the Holy Grail we jump directly to this special edition DVD that has everything (and I mean everything) you could possibly want. I will date myself by revealing that during freshman year in college, we went and saw this film about a million times - my son is just now at an age to fully appreciate the Monty Python brand of humor. Who can forget the knights who say "Ni"? Not mi.