Excalibur is a 1981 American fantasy epic movie. Directed by John Boorman, it is set in a medieval world and is based on the well-known mythology of the legendary King Arthur, played by Nigel Terry, and the Knights of the Round Table. The movie highlights Arthur’s origin, his transition to the helm in the land of Camelot upon lifting a magical enchanted sword out of a rock and his troubled kingship.
It goes without saying that King Arthur is very much a fictional character that can be placed in the same category as the likes of Superman, Hercules or even James Bond; revered, respected and beloved amongst its esteemed fanatics. There have been many actors in recent times who have had the privilege of portraying King Arthur (most recently Charlie Hunnam) but before him there was Nigel Terry, a native of the English town of Bristol who sadly passed away 3 years ago. For a man whose filmography was filled with movies set in times way before the current, you’d figure King Arthur would of course be part of his resume, and it was.
The elements of charm and strength in leadership that is very much a staple of King Arthur’s demeanour doesn’t present itself in this version played by Nigel, at least not in the beginning. He comes off as very timid and annoyingly inquisitive especially in the scene in which he succeeds where the strong and abled of Camelot failed; lifting the sword dubbed Excalibur from the rock it was stabbed into. His rise to the throne is a bit unconventional but once he grows into his destined position, everything is pretty much okay from then on. I also liked the fight sequence between him and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay); the two formidable forces of nobility locked horns in an epic and awesome duel that did not incorporate a poorly done montage. I was both surprised and awed by this particular factor because many movies of its era and also of our time use horrible montages in instances plentiful when showing a hand-to-hand combat scene.
Nicol Williamson, a talented actor who was quite respected and admired by many before his demise in 2011 is also in this as, you guessed it, Merlin. Being the millennial that I am, I have seen several portrayals of the magician/sorcerer and this one was definitely not my best, though elicited a chuckle or two from me nonetheless. He speaks funny, often raising the tone of his voice unnecessarily and conveniently appears out of nowhere particularly when King Arthur is in need of him; I am well aware of the fact that he uses magic and all but it reaches a point when I give up on caring about it. Patrick Stewart certainly needs no introduction and his performance as Leodegrance was fantastic as you would expect from him; though it was awkward watching that scene where he is trying to pull the sword of Excalibur and possibly become King. That poop face that he as well as other aspirants make is just stuff that comedy is made of. Hellen Mirren is pretty much Hellen Mirren on here as Morgan, the sister of Camelot’s king. Her character has an interesting and eerie arc in the film; she’s one of those “I hate my sibling who receives a lot of attention” type who forcibly steals Merlin mystical powers to turn the tables against his brother.
The theme of betrayal and redemption is very much prevalent in this film and I liked it. Arthur is betrayed by Lancelot; his best and most trusted liaison in battle who has an affair with Guinevere (Cherie Lunghi), his wife. Clay’s character goes on to redeem himself by unexpectedly aiding Arthur as he fought during his final battle alongside the other knights. Guinevere also follows suit in the path of restitution; after going through that infamous and personally embarrassing affair, she becomes a nun of sorts and hands over Excalibur to Arthur when he needed it the most after he abandoned it.
Just like the Sherlock Holmes, I have always perceived King Arthur as a character that could have possibly existed in the real world and not in fiction; the plausible existence of the monarch has always been a talking point that historians have flirted with over the years. As far as the latter’s chronicles is concerned, this film does not do it any justice in a number of ways. First off, certain elements of the story were very unnecessary. King Arthur breaks his mighty sword in the penultimate stages of his battle with Lancelot and then the “Lady of the Lake” appears from out of nowhere and hands him an identical one. This, for me, should not have been in the movie and should have instead been edited out. It didn’t really affect the story, it had bad visual effects more so and I strongly felt that it downplayed the fantastic duel that had just ended.
Secondly the accents were considerably unconvincing; apart from actors of English descent like Hellen Mirren, everyone else’s utterances didn’t even remotely resemble British medieval accents. The design of the famous Round Table for the Knights did not seem medieval to me; it was too flashy in my point of view but hey, I could be wrong. The time jumps that happen on here are basically inexcusable; Arthur transitions from a baby to a full-grown to an experienced swordsman and then a king almost immediately. Finally, the film can get extremely weird to watch at certain times to a point where I thought I was experiencing a visual effects nightmare; I can’t quite explain the experience and thus you perhaps ought to see the movie if you haven’t already and know where I am coming from with this.
The fantastic period clothing i.e. the Knights’ shining amours, the exceptional score, the occasionally riveting story-line, the above par production design for Camelot’s architecture and surroundings as well as the boons I mentioned were aspects that I loved about 1981’s Excalibur, but sadly I cannot place it in a ‘I must watch it again’ category. On the upside, at least I will be looking forward to watching other King Arthur movies that I haven’t watched already for purposes of reviewing of course; I have a feeling they’ll be better, right?