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King Arthur - I wanted the movie to be about King Arthur and not about a magical sword

Feature by: Jack Foley

WHEN you think of King Arthur, you tend to recall romantic images of Camelot, the dashing Knights of the Round Table, and a tragic love-triangle between Arthur, his best friend, Lancelot, and the love of their lives, Guinevere.

Not so, according to super-producer, Jerry Bruckheimer and co, whose latest take on the Arthur legend purports to be the truth behind the myth.

King Arthur, starring Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd and Keira Knightley, takes the story back to the 5th Century, some 500 years before the romanticised versions began to appear.

And, according to the film’s consultant historian, John Matthews, it is ‘the most accurate portrayal of Arthur yet’.

The story in question dates back to a real historical figure, named Lucius Artorius Castus, who was a Roman commander on Hadrian's Wall, in Cumbria.

At a time when Rome’s Empire was in decline, and its legions were withdrawing from Britain, it was Artorius who remained to protect the Romano-Britons from the might of the marauding Saxons, culminating in the Battle of Badon Hill, which proved decisive in halting the invaders’ advance.

The film is directed by Antoine Fuqua (who helped Denzel Washington to win an Oscar for Training Day) and is a gritty, often bloody, take on the legend, that finds Arthur struggling to accept his destiny, and Guinevere as a feisty warrior queen.

But for Fuqua, who claims to have grown up watching films such as The Knights of the Round Table and Excalibur, it is about a genuine hero, whose story contains many parallels with today’s world.

"I wanted the movie to be about King Arthur and not about a magical sword, because I think, in these times, we need real heroes, and Arthur is somebody that I believe was a real hero," he explained, at a recent London press conference.

"And of course I was nervous, taking on the story of King Arthur, because I like it here in Britain, and I wanted to make sure I can get back in the country. It’s a big legend, and it means a lot to a lot of people."

The film’s co-star, Ioan Gruffudd, who plays Lancelot, believes the film succeeds, however, because of the way the legend of Arthur has been developed and embellished over the years.

"That’s the beauty of it; you can make an Excalibur, and our version of King Arthur; because it’s a story that has evolved over the centuries. It is a great story."

And he favours the interpretation of his own character, believing that it is a far more realistic depiction of the role that Lancelot would have played.

"He’s a much darker, sort of more brooding, angrier character. All he’s known throughout his life, is this life of killing, and warring," he explained.

"But I enjoyed the fact that he’s a darker character, and different to the traditional telling of the story of him as this gallant knight of knights, this noble knight in shining armour. I think he becomes a much more realistic character and a much more human character."

Filming of the movie took place in Ireland last year and, according to producer, Bruckheimer (whose hits include last year’s Pirates of the Caribbean), several of the battle scenes had to be toned down, in order to secure a more family-friendly certificate.

"Antoine shot a lot of phenomenal action that, in order to get the PG-13, we had to delete some of. But that will all be exposed in the DVD, for which we’re going to do an R-rated version (18 certificate). That will be quite spectacular."

The action in question required some of the camera operators to wear riot gear, to capture the heat of the battle, such was the film’s determination to make it as authentic as possible.

"We had cameras everywhere. We had cameras rigged on the guys, on shields, on the swords, on the horses, in the ground, and we had a guy on stedicam running through the middle of fire, and these guys swinging swords," he explained.

"He had to be protected at all times, because anything could happen, and we had him in riot gear, and helmets, gloves, protective padding, knee pads, full gear, you know. He was basically a knight."

The actors, too, enjoyed getting involved with the physical stuff, having trained for weeks at boot camp beforehand.

"As much as it was hard work every day, being on the back of a horse, it was actually quite exhilarating, and one of the best ways to clear the cobwebs from the night before," recalled Gruffudd.

"There’s no real acting involved when you’re doing that; you’re in the costumes, you’re on the back of a horse, you have Hadrian’s Wall built there for you, so you don’t have to imagine anything; it’s all there, presented for you. And the physical aspect of it, for me, was much more exhilarating than hard work."

Even Clive Owen, who plays Arthur, relished the challenge, despite having to overcome a self-confessed insecurity around horses.

"When Jerry and Antoine asked me to do it, no one actually said, ‘can you ride’, so I kept very quiet about it; I was in denial about it, until eventually someone came along and said I had to get on a horse," he explained.

"So, I spent a good two months, really, getting ready before going to Ireland, but it was very necessary, because 70 per cent of this movie is on horse-back, and it was important that both I and the knights looked like we belong on those horses.

"Ultimately, you want to deliver for a director, so if Antoine says I want you to ride, at speed, into this hostile environment, with a horse, you want to have the confidence to do that, so the work was put in."

In spite of the physical demands of the production, however, the actors still found time to have a few chuckles on set.

Gruffudd, especially, fell victim to the humour of co-star, Ray Winstone, after being spotted curling his eyebrows each morning, before shooting.

Laughing with embarrassment as he recalled the incident, the Welsh star (who is best-known for TV’s Hornblower series), revealed: "I made the very foolish error of deciding to be one of the vainest knights of them all, and decided to curl my eye-lashes every morning.

"But I was rather unfortunate to be caught out by Ray Winstone, one morning, and, as you can imagine, the word got round very quickly. I actually became Sir Lashalot!"

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