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King Arthur (theatrical review)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (DIRECTOR'S CUT): Alternate ending. 'Blood on the Land: Forging King Arthur' - making of. National Treasure sneak peak.

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES (THEATRICAL): Alternate ending; 'Blood on the Land: Forging King Arthur' - making of; National Treasure sneak peak.

THE legend of King Arthur is given the ‘Jerry Bruckheimer’ treatment for this expensive, but deeply unsatisfying take on the ‘true’ story behind one of Britain’s most captivating historical figures.

The romanticism surrounding Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is completely stripped away for an altogether darker, and more violent interpretation of the events surrounding the fabled king, thereby removing the magic of Merlin and ignoring completely any mention of Camelot.

As directed by Antoine Fuqua, of Training Day fame, it also reduces one of the most rousing passages in English history to an uninspired, and frankly insulting, mess, incapable of delivering any of the passion or emotion that has traditionally surrounded the legend.

According to writer, David Franzoni, ‘this is King Arthur as The Wild Bunch’, which is ‘the definitive’ story of the leader and warrior who emerged to lead the Britons against the Saxons some 500 years before the first romantic tales of his adventures were written down.

It is set in the Dark Ages, as opposed to the Middle Ages, and takes place during the final days of the Roman Empire, as its diminishing legions pull out of Britain, thereby leaving the Romano-British people to the threat posed by the Saxons, not to mention the Savage Picts and fierce Scots, north of Hadrian’s Wall.

The ensuing film is the tale of the man who would become king, a historical figure known as Artorius Castus, who is descended from the original Sarmatian legionnaires that were stationed around Britain.

Castus, according to the film’s researchers, is the only significant commander of this name written in history, and his legend was born out of the Battle of Badon Hill, a battle which changed the face of Britain, and which devastated the invading Saxon army so utterly, that they were rendered powerless for almost 40 years.

Fuqua’s film focuses on the events leading up to this battle and Arthur’s struggle to accept his destiny as the new leader of the Romano-British, as opposed to fulfilling his desire to return to Rome with his freedom intact.

Yet, Clive Owen, in the title role, singularly fails to do justice to the character, coming across as a bland and hopelessly brooding figure, who seems more at ease sulking his way through proceedings, than providing any sort of inspiration.

He is not the only actor to appear miscast. Keira Knightley looks far too young to provide any believable love-interest, and far too slender to cut a credible action figure, while Ray Winstone, as Arthur’s Knight, Bors, seems unsure as to whether he is the comedy element, or the out-and-out blood and guts man.

Only Ioan Gruffudd emerges with any real credit from the principals, injecting his Lancelot with some much-needed charisma, but his feelings for Guinevere are only suggested, and the love triangle which has become such a striking feature of the Arthur legend is never really touched upon.

Indeed, Fuqua seems unable to handle the emotional requirements of the story, stripping proceedings of any characterisation, and taking away any ability for the film to wrestle with viewers’ emotions.

A love scene between Arthur and Guinevere is awkwardly handled, while the banter between Arthur and his Knights feels a little too contemporary.

Fuqua only really finds his stride during the film’s battle sequences, which hark back to the same sort of gung-ho, men-against-the-odds heroics displayed in his equally derogatory war movie, Tears of the Sun, not to mention better epics, such as Braveheart, The Last Samurai, The Magnificent Seven and Excalibur (that other dark take on the Arthur legend).

In the end, audiences are left to lament the complete deconstruction of the Arthur legend by an American crew, using British actors, that threatens to tarnish the memory of one of history’s most charismatic figures.

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