In the second half of the 20th century, Americans developed an affinity for the medieval European legends and stories that centered on the monarchs and the ladies in the kingdom of Camelot. With love, war, commoners and kings, these stories contained all of the components of satisfying narratives. A new addition to this corpus of films is forthcoming. Recently, it was announced that Charlie Hunnam is director Guy Ritchie’s choice for the lead role in his upcoming “King Arthur” film. For viewers who want a preview, a fine choice is “Excalibur,” which was released in 1981.
“Excalibur” is pretty faithful to the original story. As a child, Arthur pulls the enchanted sword, “Excalibur,” from the stone that did not yield to older, stronger men. Because of his success, he is chosen to be king. Arthur turns frequently to the wizard Merlin (played by Nicol Williamson), who also helped his father. As an adult (played by Nigel Terry), he is a benevolent and popular king. He starts the “Knights of the Roundtable,” and he marries the attractive Guinevere (played by Cheri Lunghi). Guinevere and Arthur’s most accomplished knight, his friend Lancelot, find themselves drawn to one another and succumb to the attraction. King Arthur’s despondency over their betrayal leads to his downfall and the erosion of much of what he has built.
“Excalibur” has a great cast. It features several strong performances by future big name stars, such as Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, and Liam Neeson. The movie’s best performance is by Helen Mirren, who plays Morgana, Arthur’s half-sister who wants to destroy him and his kingdom.
The movie is directed with a lot of style by John Boorman. He makes the film visually stunning, especially the scenes set in Arthur’s castle. Also, he does an effective job making the movie dark and violent. The battle scenes are pretty intense and bloody.
“Excalibur” is a good choice for fans of gripping love stories, as well as sword and sorcery movies.