King Arthur in Hollywood

Excalibur (1981) VHS DVD

Trying to compress Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur into less than two hours is close to impossible, but director John Boorman and screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg give it what some claim is the best shot. Their retelling of the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is a dark, eccentric and sometimes engrossing tale. Nicol Williamson's playful yet formidable Merlin seems more of the T. H. White style than Malory. The movie features an impressive cast, including Nigel Terry as Arthur, Patrick Stewart as Leodegrance, Liam Neeson as Gawaine and even Gabriel Byrne, and for the British comedy fans, Hyacinth Bucket's hubby as Ector. Boorman's own son, Charley, plays the young Mordred. Being an interpretation of Malory, Boorman followed the Hollywood style of crafting a medieval feel rather than Dark Age, with knights in full armor and jousting tournaments; but the lush landscapes are subdued with cloud streaked skies, lonely stone castles, deep woods and green hues. The battles are realistic and bloody, knights struggling in armor, dripping in sweat, bashing and being skewered. Wagner's dark music amidst the score brings out the mood.