King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
by Toby Woollaston
Nothing stirs me less than a film about King Arthur. In the current scape of entertainment the legend plants itself firmly within the fantasy fraternity of Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and the like. It’s a well trodden path that offers a bland and dreamy world of kings, wizards, and swords. And the title “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” really doesn’t do the film any favours. On the flip-side nothing gets me more excited than a film by Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch). He successfully breathed life into the Sherlock Holmes franchise with Robert Downey Jr. So, just maybe, Ritchie could do the same here with Charlie Hunnam who plays the titular Arthur.
I’ll dispense with the plot details as I’m sure most will know the broad strokes of the Arthurian tale. Suffice to say that the film begins with Arthur as a young boy, robbed of his birthright by his power-hungry uncle Vortigern (Jude Law). Cast adrift down the river Thames, Arthur is taken in at a brothel and is brought up the hard way on the dirty back streets of Londinium. It is at this point that Guy Ritchie’s signature style and visual swagger comes to the fore as we are treated to a superb montage that illustrates Arthur’s street-wise life from boyhood through to adulthood. It is a stunning piece of cinema and the visuals that accompany the intoxicating musical score are a pure joy to experience.
There are a few other tweaks (ok, a lot) along the way to accomodate Ritchie’s interpretation of the Arthurian legend. Merlin is replaced by a feisty young woman known only as The Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), and there are a number of additions that come in the form of Arthur’s band of east-end geezers that lend the film a certain gritty Lock Stock quality; Back Lack, Wet Stick, Goose-fat Bill, Flat-nose Mike and antagonist Mischief John all make up a vibrant spectrum of wisecracking gutter dwellers. Such characters go a long way to preventing the film from taking the Arthurian legend too seriously, lubricating a healthy dose of humour throughout.
Unfortunately the sum of all its excellent parts doesn’t quite make the film a coherent whole and it gets somewhat bogged down in the mechanics of the Arthurian story. Excalibur is held aloft (yes, any mention of the Arthurian sword must include the word “aloft”) and the film does the opposite. Shame, I would’ve simply enjoyed the telling of Arthur’s life on the street alone.
You can see the published review here.