Compiled by: Jack Foley
Q. When history and Hollywood get together, it doesn’t
always tend to be a happy marriage, but I understand that you
are quite delighted at the way the film company was keen to get
it as right as it could?
A. Absolutely, it is quite rare, if not unique, to have
Hollywood a company saying, ‘yes, we’ll change that,
we want to get it right, rather than it’s just a movie,
go away’. So yeah, it was wonderful to work with a bunch
of people so committed to making this the most accurate portrayal
of Arthur that anyone has done yet.
Q. Is it a very different film from the one you would
have made if you had everything at your disposal?
A. Yes, I suppose it is. I don’t know what I would
have done differently, but inevitably, my vision would have been
different from the version that we’ve got, but I’m
still incredibly happy with what we’ve got. Out of all the
Arthurian movies I’ve ever seen, this is the best, I think,
and I was involved in it, so that’s great.
Q. Is there a single aspect you can describe that’s
the most authentic so far?
A. 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 details is phenomenal,
and it is very, very accurate indeed. This is about as near as
you could get to going back to the 6th Century, except it doesn’t
smell as bad.
Q. In that sense, you obviously worked closely with scriptwriters,
etc. But what about the armoury experts, and people like that?
Did you consult with them?
A. A little bit. Not so much with them, because they
were so good, and they didn’t really need any. The only
point, I think, that I made an impact on, was when I first arrived
on the set, they showed me Excalibur, drew it out with great pride,
and it 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, you know, because everyone’s
going to laugh you off the screen!’
Saxons were Arthur’s greatest enemies. So he said, ‘well
what can we put on then?’ And I said well, we could put
Ogham on, and I had to explain that it’s an ancient system
of Celtic lettering, and then somebody said that it looked like
notches on a gun butt. We don’t want them to think that
Arthur’s some crazed killer, who is running around notching
up how many people that 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.
Q. There’s a title card before film starts, saying
about recent archaeological discoveries? Can you describe what
A. The archaeological discoveries they are referring
to are connected to the Sarmatians. The Sarmatians were posted
to Britain, as part of the Roman Legion, five and a half thousands
of them. They basically formed a kind of unique cultural enclave
up in a place called Ribchester, in present-day Lancashire, and
that base has been excavated over the years, and recently more
wholly than before. What’s come out of that is the fact
that they not only stayed there for several hundred years, but
that they kept a sense of their cultural identity, of their religious
beliefs, and that’s one of the reasons that this is the
film it is, and the story it is, because it’s some of their
ideas and beliefs that influenced the Arthurian legend, so we
Q. How involved were you with the finished script?
A. A little bit. When I came along, the script had been
through a couple of versions, and still had some very strange
things in it. The bishop was a cardinal, so I pointed out that
they weren’t around for a few hundred years after that;
one or two things bothered me a little bit in terms of historical
accuracy, but David Franzoni, as was everyone else, was very willing
to change things as far as they could. There were things that
had been already shot, in the early days, and they weren’t
willing to go back and re-shoot all those scenes just because
one costume, a bishop’s costume, was slightly wrong. But
I could have nit-picked forever, but the overall situation was
super, because they were willing to change things, and Franzoni
was glad to bring it into line more with the true history of Arthur.
Q. Why did they choose you?
A. Well, I’ve written somewhere in the region of
40 books on the subject of Arthur; the latest one is just out,
King Arthur: From Dark Age Hero to Mythic Warrior, and it was
partly a fluke. They were looking for someone, and somebody knew
my name, and then he rang me and asked if I was willing to come
and do it. And did I agree with the theory, which was a big question!
I said, ‘I’m quite familiar with the theory, and it’s
fairly convincing, so yeah, I’d love to’.
Q. Much is made of the impact
of the Battle of Badon Hill. If it hadn’t been won, do you
think we might all be comprised of Scottish people, Scandinavian
A. It would probably, because basically 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.
Q. How much does Guinevere figure in all the theories?
A. Well, she’s been around for a very long time.
You have to think of these Arthurian legends as rather like an
archaeological dig; layers and layers and layers, and things keep
getting added on as you go through time. But when you start digging
back to the beginning, you find certain things are already in
place, in the earliest versions. One of these is the name of Arthur,
the other is the name Guinevere, although in Welsh it’s
The White Shadow. And she’s one of the earliest characters
who’s mentioned by name, and in every single story thereafter,
Lancelot’s Queen is always called Guinevere, which, to me,
points pretty strongly that she was in right at the beginning
of the story.
There’s even a theory that she’s buried in Scotland.
Q. Is it likely that she was the warrior queen that’s
A. Yes, it’s very likely, because 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 going into battle naked, so we did
the next best thing. But definitely that, and the tattoos, the
markings, are all very authentic, they’re all based on Pict-ish
carvings, found up in Scotland.
The idea of the women warriors is not a problem because, I mean,
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.
Q. Are you allowed to watch other historical films with
your family? And what others do you find are better examples of
following history? And which are the worst?
A. Really, very few. I find things to like in most historical
movies; I loved Gladiator, which is another of David Franzoni’s
work, and I felt that was pretty much an accurate portrayal of
the time. The one I had most trouble with, recently, was Braveheart,
which looked wonderful, but, of course, just turned history on
its head, and brought people in from here and there, that weren’t
supposed to be there, and generally messed it up.
So yes I am somewhat irritating to my family, because I sit there
going, ‘they wouldn’t have worn that now…’
Q. But you seem to have a good balance of understanding
that it is an entertainment?
A. I think that’s very important. We were setting
out to entertain, we weren’t making a documentary, and so
of course there had to be some concessions. Every one of them
hard-fought, I might say. I dug my toes in sometimes, and digging
your toes in with Antoine is not very easy, and I usually lost,
but occasionally I didn’t. But it was good to be involved
with something that was so determined to be accurate, as far as
it could be.
Q. The battle on the ice, was it some sort of homage
to Aleksandr Nevsky? Or is there some historical context for it?
A. Actually there is. When we were filming, Antoine had
never seen the Aleksandr Nevsky movie, so he didn’t owe
anything to that. But we did find out that there was a battle
which took place in Gaul, against Celtic warriors, on a frozen
lake, in which the Romans ended up the victors, because the ice
broke. Certainly, it’s historically known about.
Q. Which battle are you most proud to have won, in terms
of historical accuracy?
A. The one that gave me most problem was that in the
script, when the ride into battle for the last time, the knights
are carrying huge big shields, which have extraordinary images
painted on them. I think that the scrip that said, at one point,
that Arthur should carry a shield with a scary Christ on the front.
I just tried to point out, initially slowly and tactfully, and
then with greater ire, that carrying huge, heavy shields into
battle not only didn’t happen, but would be very difficult,
with a spear and a sword. Then I started on the images on the
shield, so the poor artist ended up hating me. It went on for
quite a while, but in the end it was dropped.
Q. What is actually known about Merlin?
A. I have a book on that coming out as well. We do know
a surprising amount about him. We know that 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 mad and 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.