Becoming a King
No magic sword. No clandestine romance between Guinevere and Lancelot. No Camelot. And yet, this most recent King Arthur movie fascinated me with its very different take on the fabled king and his brave knights.
Historians claim there really was a King Arthur, but he lived centuries before the one depicted in popular legend. Based on this information, King Arthur follows the adventures of Artorius Castus (Clive Owen), a part British, part Roman knight stationed in Britain who ended up fighting for his adopted country and becoming its beloved king.
Guinevere (Keira Knightley), instead of depicted as a royal Lady sitting around wondering “What the Simple Folk Do,” is shown as a Celtic warrior who helps Arthur accept his destiny. This Guinevere handles a bow and arrow with the best of them and charges into battle like a roaring lion -- even with no armor and very little clothing on her practically bare war-painted body.
But, yes, there is a Round Table. Arthur and his men surprise a pompous Roman bishop with this democratic seating arrangement when he arrives to give them one last assignment before they can be “honorably discharged.” It seems they must escort the pope’s Roman godchild through enemy territory before the dreaded Saxon invasion descends upon him and his family.
Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Arthur’s right-hand man, tries to talk Arthur out of accepting this dangerous mission, but he ultimately stands by his leader in the ferocious warfare to come. And there’s plenty of it. In one magnificent sequence, opposing forces face off against each other on a huge frozen river. Suspenseful action and superb cinematography come together here to create the best battle sequence of the year. (Eat your heart out, Troy and Alexander.) It’s so well photographed, I could watch this part of the movie over and over again.
I also have to admit there’s something about the sight of horses thundering across the screen that always gets to me. Maybe it’s because I spent so many enjoyable weekends watching Western movies while growing up. In King Arthur, the horses look great -- as do the knights riding them, especially the ultra-photogenic Gruffudd. Furthermore, I simply can’t resist dramatic situations played out in snow --and much of King Arthur exudes a beautiful wintry elegance.
A worthy villain adds to the fun of any film, and Stellan Skarsgard (Exorcist: The Beginning) comes through with flying colors as the menacing Saxon leader who’s intrigued with Arthur’s leadership qualities. “Finally, a man worth killing,” he says to himself when the two finally meet. Skarsgard really gets into this character. His sneaky body language and beady eyes manage to telegraph evil with a capital “E.”
The King Arthur DVD is available in two formats: the PG-13 version shown in theatrical release and an unrated Director’s (Antoine Fuqua) cut. Both DVDs contain the following bonus items: an alternate ending; a “Blood on the Land: Forging King Arthur” feature about the making of the film; a Round Table discussion with cast and filmmakers; pop-up trivia; a video game demo; and producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s personal photo gallery. The Director’s cut also includes Antoine Fuqua’s commentary. All in all, this is a fine DVD offering -- with both enlightening and entertaining information included. I found the Round Table discussion most enjoyable, particularly when the actors joke about learning to fight while on horseback, and Fuqua’s explanation of why he preferred the alternate ending makes considerable sense to me. Fortunately, the ending finally used also works.
(Released by Touchstone Home Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for intense battle sequences, a scene of sensuality and some language. Director’s cut not rated. DVD bonus materials also not rated and subject to change.)