So…. my girlfriend and I were watching the 2004 King Arthur movie on FX this weekend. It was a semi-serious attempt to cast the King Arthur legend in what would be the correct time frame — that is, around the time the Roman Empire was leaving the British Isles. It was somewhat enjoyable, like a sort of Elseworlds King Arthur story that turns the Knights of the Round Table into a mercenary squad and Guinevere into a Queen Boudica-like Celt. But overall, there were too many quibbles that kept me from truly enjoying the film.
- For a movie that claims to be an accurate retelling of what a Roman-era Arthur would have experienced, there are way too many historical inaccuracies. They’re captured in this nifty Wikipedia entry. Two glaring examples: Rome had already abandoned England by the time of the movie about 80 years previous, and the Pelagian heresy was more about the denial or original sin than about making a case for human freedom.
- Clive Owen is not leading man material.
- Iaon Gruffud IS leading man material, but he’s shunted in the background as Lancelot. Also, he doesn’t even get to have an affair with Gweniviere, which is pretty much the focal point of every other major Hollywood adaptation. (I guess this isn’t too bad a point; at least they were being different.)
- There was no way to tell the knights apart. Four out of Seven had long curly hair and a beard. I had to check online to find out the name of the big burly one, the only one who was visually distinct (his name was Bors).
- I don’t know how she manages these roles, but Kiera Knightley’s Guinevere should not have been kicking but in combat. This is not an indictment of women in combat; Celt Queen Boudica proved it could be done. However, Kiera is rail thin; no way she could’ve taken on a 300-lb. meat-eating Saxon. Also, she spent the early part of the movie wasting away in a prison with her hand broken. Nice recoverey, Gwen.
- I know they were wanting their freedom, but the Arthurian Knights seemed to have absolutely no loyalty to the Romans. I find that hard to believe. They were taken as boys, and 15 years of brainwashing would have made them pretty loyal Roman subjects. The Roman advances in education, literature, and technology would have been a lot to whent their appetites And if they weren’t, why would the Romans even bother keeping them on the payroll? They looked like a bunch of whiny brats who couldn’t wait to get out. WHy not get some other boys that had a better taste in killing?
- The movie producers may not admit it, but the movie was anti-Roman Catholicism. Every character who practiced the Catholic faith was more or less a mustache-twirling villian. Well, except for a young boy who learns to embrace the joys of secularism. This wouldn’t bother me so much if the bloodthirsty Celts weren’t portrayed as nobly heroic and the invading Saxons as reasonable by comparison. There may have been mistakes made on all sides, but I believe every society believed they were doing what was right. And in that vein, the Catholic church is seen as knowing what the right thing would be, yet doing the wrong thing because they are EEEEVVVIIILLL. Fine. Whatever. I’m not even Catholic and it ticked me off.
OK, now that I got that out of the way: am I to understand that there is yet another movie, released this week, that deals with Arthur in the Roman times? That movie is The Last Legion. Now, I know next to nothing about this movie, but I gotta ask: what is wrong with setting an Arthur movie in the medieval times? It’s like there’s been some sort of edict from the universities to educate everyone in the world that “Arthur could not have possibly existed except in 6th Century AD.”
Well, scholars are also split on whether or not Arthur actually existed. And seriously now, are we to ignore that our knowledge of Arthur was spurred on by the likes of T. H. White and Sir Thomas Malory? The majority of us became familiar with Arthurian themes and legend through works of fiction. And these all had noble kings, knights in shining armor, wizards in pointy hats, and a saucy sorceress named Morgana Le Fey.
So here’s my theory. One: snippy historians are having a field day. This is the best case scenario. I do not agree with the sentiment, as it has already been done with the 2004 movie and it wasn’t terribly compelling the first time around. However, I’m willing to forgive this, since the naive academic types are honestly honesty trying to do something noble, such us educating us that all the myths and fables we’ve imagine about the Knights of the Round Table are wrong, and we should be ashamed of ourselves for daring to enjoy fairy tales.
Or, two: some soulless movie execs took a look at the success of ancient-themed movies like Lord of the Rings or Gladiator and thought, “We can do that. Chivalry is so passe.”
If it’s the latter, then for shame.