Directed by Antoine Fuqua
This latest interpretation of the legend of King Arthur, directed by Antoine Fuqua from David Franzoni's script is a good looking medieval historical drama with enough action to keep the prime demographic happy. Since there are no known contemporaneous accounts of what exactly happened in fifth century Britain - the time of Arthur, if he is more than just a legend -- nobody can say for sure how close to the truth this version comes. Mr. Fuqua's King Arthur departs from the familiar legend written in the 15th century in that Arthur is a half-Roman, half-British officer in charge of a Roman outpost at Hadrian's wall at the time of Rome's decision to retreat from some of the hard-to-defend parts of her far-flung empire. His knights are not native Britons but Roman conscripts from Eastern Europe (called Sarmatians). A central theme of the film is the strong bond among soldiers - Arthur (Clive Owen - remember Croupier?) is more loyal to his band of knights than to either Rome or Britain.
There are three warring parties in 5th century Britain: the Romans, who occupy Britain south of the wall; the indigenous British (called "Woads" in the movie) who are such fierce marauders that the Romans had to build a wall; and the ruthless Saxons who have invaded the North and seek material gain at the expense of both the Romans and the Woads. Note: I looked up "Woad" since I had never heard of an ethnic group by that name - the word refers to a plant used to make blue dye for use on fabric or skin (the Woads in the movie wore blue body paint into battle) - but the language they speak (with subtitles) sounded vaguely Celtic. All three groups have very impressive costumes although I thought that the Roman knights (Arthur & Co.) looked almost too good, considering - they had to travel the countryside by horseback, with very little luggage, no running water, probably no soap - but they somehow managed to look very crisp in a medieval military sort of way. I also loved the production design (Hadrian's wall in particular) and the outdoor location shooting (Ireland).
The filmmakers made a very wise decision to not have a love triangle between Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Arthur, and Guinevere (Keira Knightley). So many filmmakers feel obliged to inject a romantic angle. In this case it would have distracted from the drama at hand: these three groups are locked in mortal combat, the very survival of the Woads is in jeopardy -- romance can wait. Arthur, and Guinevere had a little thing going at the end but it doesn't consume much screen time or divert attention from the real drama. The two major battle scenes are well done in that they are both beautiful visually and fairly logical. One of my pet peeves is that screenwriters pump up the action by having combatants do some very illogical things - like expose their troops to harm for no tactical gain. There is very little of that in King Arthur, in contrast to Troy -- I can't help but compare the two since they are both pre-modern battle movies. Both battle scenes showed Arthur using superior tactics to defeat a numerically superior enemy.
Images are copyright Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.
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