The legend of King Arthur is a potent one. A warrior who saves his kingdom from evil, leads a nation into prosperity and creates a democracy within his governing body is an ideal that we all strive for.
One of the newest iterations of the tale is King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017). Charlie Hunnam plays the title role. The purpose of his journey is to free the land and take the throne from his Uncle Vortigern (Jude Law).
This is one of those movies that looks good on paper. The cast is top notch and the narrative is a twist on a story that we all know. The problem is that it is bad. It also, like many films, has a lack of female characters, as compared to the number of male characters. I was only able to stomach a few minutes of the film before I had to turn it off. It is essentially unwatchable and boring.
A good origin story, when well done, can fill in the gaps and answer questions about a character’s back story. When we know where this person has been, it allows the audience to understand them and perhaps, not be so judgemental about where they are going.
The Sword in the Stone (1963) is Disney‘s answer to the origin story of King Arthur. Based on the book by T.H. White, the movie follows a young boy named Arthur, also known as Wart (voiced by Rickie Sorensen, Richard Reitherman, and Robert Reitherman). Young, orphaned, and poor, he is looked down upon by those around him. When he meets Merlin (voiced by Karl Swenson), Arthur goes on an emotional, psychological, and physical journey that will eventually lead him to the throne of England.
Animation-wise, this is Disney at its best. The technical abilities to bring this movie to life is awe-inspiring. But the narrative is rather simple. Granted, I have not been the target audience for a very long time. But as an adult, I would prefer a little more complexity and less in-your-face-ness. I would also appreciate it if the female characters (who are limited in number compared to the male characters) had been given the opportunity to move beyond the 2D boxes they were kept in.
The myth of King Arthur has existed for thousands of years. From a writing perspective, the good thing about myths is that it open to a variety of interpretations.
Cursed premiered last weekend on Netflix. Based on the comic book by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, the series follows Nimue aka Lady of the Lake (Katherine Langford). On the verge of adulthood, she, like many girls in their late teens or early 20’s, thinks she knows it all. With dark magic in her blood, she is persona non grata to those around her.
Then the Red Paladins destroy her village and kill her mother. The Paladins have an end goal of ethnically cleansing the land of Fey (magical non-humans) and their supporters. Charged by her dying mother to take an ancient sword to Merlin (Gustaf Skarsgård), Nimue starts on a journey that will change her fate. Among those who join her on the journey are the brother/sister duo of Arthur (Devon Terrell) and Morgana aka Morgan le Fay (Shalom Brune-Franklin).
*Note: I have not read the comic book, so the review is strictly based on the series.
I enjoyed this non-traditional retelling of the King Arthur tale. I enjoyed it because while it is still familiar, it is not the same story that has been repeated for thousands of years. The main reason it works is that it is told from the female perspective with an eye on expanding a woman’s role in this world. In the traditional Arthurian myth, there are two distinct types of women: the love interest/damsel in distress (Guinevere) or the evil witch bent on taking power (Morgan le Fay). Boxed into these stereotypes, these women are not allowed to more than a one note character.
The other reason it works is that the world is turned upside down. Merlin is not the wise, old Obi-Wan Kenobi type whose sole task is to mentor the future ruler. He is old, but his life and his choices are complicated.
It also helps that the casting is both gender and color blind, reflecting both the world that exists within the narrative and the real world of the audience.
The hero or heroine’s journey is a common narrative. For some, that journey is the rocky road from youth to maturity.
The television series Merlin (2008-2012) told the story of the young man who would become one of the greatest wizards in mythology. Starring Colin Morgan as the titular character and Bradley James as the future King Arthur, Merlin is initially a servant in King Uther’s (Anthony Stewart Head) Camelot. As time goes on and Merlin grows up, he will become a friend, a companion and a trusted adviser to the man who will be known as King Arthur.
I wasn’t a huge fan of this series, but the fact that it lasted four years says something about the quality of the program.
The myth of Camelot usually incurs images of King Arthur and his loyal knights. While there are women within the Camelot myth, they are forced into the usual roles of the virginal good girl and the bad girl witch or sorceress with little to no shades of grey in between.
In 1987, author Marion Zimmer Bradley turned the spotlight on the women of Camelot in The Mists Of Avalon. Morgaine (formerly Morgan Le Fay) is the older half sister of the man who will be King Arthur. Gwenhwyfar (formerly Guinevere) is torn between two men: Arthur and his cousin, Lancelot. The plot also centers around the older generation: Morgaine and Arthur’s mother Igraine, and her two sisters, Lady Morgause and Lady Vivianne, the Lady of The Lake.
In 2001, The Mists Of Avalon was turned into a TV movie. The cast included Julianna Margulies as Morgaine, Samantha Mathis as Gwenhwyfar, Caroline Goodall as Igraine, Joan Allen as Morgause and Anjelica Houston as Vivianne.
The book is quite hefty. What I liked about it is that while it kept much of the basic story of King Arthur intact, the story is completely different when told from the point of view of the women who are closest to him. There is also an element of reality as the author threads in the traditions and beliefs of the local population as Christianity slowly takes hold of the island.
I did enjoy the filmed adaptation. As with most filmed adaptations, certain parts of the novel were edited or removed completely, but that is to be expected.
While I recommend the movie over the book, the book is still decent read.
Keira Knightley is part of a new generation of British actresses. She has the refinement and manners that non Brits assume all British people have. But she is also a performer who is moving beyond the BBC/PBS/Masterpiece type of roles that usually defines the career of a British actor or actress.
Two of her early roles exemplify her ability to choose interesting and realistic female characters.
In Princess Of Thieves (2001), Gwyn (Knightley) is the daughter of Robin Hood and the late Maid Marian. Her father (Stuart Wilson) is taken captive by the Sherif Of Nottingham (Malcolm McDowell). Gwyn must not only rescue her father, but the rightful heir the throne, Prince Philip (Stephen Moyer).
Three years later in 2004, she was Guinevere in King Arthur opposite Clive Owen in the title role. Stripped of most of the myth that is known about King Arthur, this movie is grounded in British history. Taking place in a time when the Romans were slowly receding back to the Mediterranean, the story revolves around the conflict between the Roman settlers and the native Britain’s.