Feature by: Jack Foley
HISTORICAL consultant, John Matthews, claims that new movie,
King Arthur, is ‘the most accurate portrayal of Arthur yet’,
but even he will confess that it is not the version he would put
on-screen, if he had the tools of the trade at his disposal.
And there were numerous occasions, throughout the production,
that he had to fight with director, Antoine Fuqua, to ensure that
the production remained historically true.
"When I first arrived on the set, for example, they showed
me Excalibur, which was beautiful. But when they took it out of
its sheath, it had Saxon ruins down the blade, so I threw a wobbly,
and said ‘you can’t do that, because everyone’s
going to laugh you off the screen!’
"Saxons were Arthur’s greatest enemies. So he [the
weapons expert] asked, ‘what can we put on then?’
And I said, ‘we could put Ogham on’, and had to explain
that it’s an ancient system of Celtic lettering, but then
somebody else said that it looked like notches on a gun butt.
"We don’t want them to think that Arthur was some
crazed killer, running around notching up how many people he’s
killed, so we worked through it, and ended up with a great inscription
on the blade of the sword, which says ‘defender of the land’.
My wife came up with that."
David Franzoni’s script also contained a few glaring errors,
which Matthews was only too keen to point out.
"The bishop was a cardinal, for example, so I pointed out
that they weren’t around for a few hundred years after that,"
"But David was very willing to change things as far as he
could. There were things that had been already shot, in the early
days, that they [the production team] weren’t willing to
go back and re-shoot just because one costume, a bishop’s
costume, was slightly wrong.
"But I could have nit-picked forever, and the overall situation
was super, because they were willing to change things, to bring
it into line more with the true history of Arthur."
The history in question dates back to a real historical figure,
Lucius Artorius Castus, who was a Roman commander on Hadrian's
Wall, in Cumbria, in the 5th Century.
And the film unfolds at a time when Rome’s Empire was in
decline, and its legions were withdrawing from Britain, forcing
Artorius to make a loan stand, on behalf of the Romano-Britons,
against the might of the marauding Saxons.
Arthur’s place in history was
subsequently shaped at the Battle of Badon Hill, which proved
decisive in halting the invaders’ advance.
"The Battle of Badon Hill stopped the Saxon invasion in
its tracks and after that, it took them 40 years to get to the
point where they were in charge of the land, if you will.
"During that time, rather than being invaders, they became
settlers, and out of that settlement came the Anglo-Saxons, which
is us, basically, so if the Battle of Badon had been lost, then
we’d probably all be speaking Saxon right now," explained
Speaking at a London press conference, held to mark the launch
of the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced epic, Matthews went on to expose
the fact behind many of the characters associated with the Arthurian
Guinevere, for example, is depicted as much more of a warrior
queen, rather than the blushing bride of some interpretations.
"The Celts and the Picts both had women warriors who went
into battle, next to their men, and usually went into battle naked,
by the way, which we couldn’t have Keira [Knightley] doing.
"But her tattoos and markings are all very authentic, as
they’re all based on Pict-ish carvings found up in Scotland.
"The idea of the women warriors is not a problem because
Julius Caesar, who was one of the main Roman leaders to conquer
Britain, said that he had great respect for the Celtic warriors,
but he had even greater respect, and fear, for their women, because
they fought much more savagely."
As for Merlin, Matthews adds: "There was a character called
Myrddin who was around in the 5th Century, who may even possibly
have been a king of part of Scotland, who was known as a wise
man, as a seer, as a prophet.
"And he fought in a great battle, The Battle of Arderith,
which is a historically-known battle, and went mad, because he
saw some of his own kin being killed. So he went into the Caledonian
forest and lived there, as a hermit, for many years, talking to
animals, talking to trees, until he was finally brought back to
civilisation and recovered most of his senses.
"This is nothing to do with Arthur, it is even a little
bit before the Arthurian period, but the story, when it finally
got written down in the 11th Century, suddenly had Arthur in it,
because there suddenly was the story of Merlin… The Merlin
character goes back much further than we’re used to thinking
of, and he was a sherman and not a wizard."
Yet, in spite of some of the concessions that Matthews agreed
had to be made, in terms of entertainment-value, he remains tremendously
impressed with the new movie and proud to be associated with it.
Asked what he liked most about it, he concluded: "The whole
feel of it, and the look of it. When you’re looking at the
armour, and the weapons, you’re looking at the horses, the
setting of it all, the detail is phenomenal, and it is very, very
"This is about as near as you could get to going back to
the 6th Century, except it doesn’t smell as bad."