1981; Rated R; 143 Minutes
Nigel Terry: King Arthur
Cherie Lunghi: Guenevere
Nicol Williamson: Merlin
Nicholas Clay: Lancelot
Helen Mirren: Morgana
Paul Geoffery: Perceval
Produced by John
Boorman, Edgar F. Cross, Michael Dryhurst and Robert A.
Einstein; Directed by John Boorman; Screenwritten
by John Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg; based on the
novel "Le Morte D'Arthur" by Thomas Malory
by DAVID KEYES
and evil, there never is one without the other."
Dialogue from "Excalibur"
steps from the shadows and into the glowing flames of battle.
His scathed robe flickers in the wind, the dragon's breath
clouding the brooding landscape. His helmet reflects light
into the shadows, and his silhouette graces the lands in
conduct of war. To him, the dark ages of England are merely
silly little children's games where the loser screams and
shouts until he gets his way. For him, those days are about
to come to an end.
name is Merlin. Legends speak of his indefinite power and
strength; the magic that brought the dark ages into the
light, and the prophecies of a majestic sword that would
rise above centuries of war and pestilence. When he enters
the screen of John Boorman's unforgettable "Excalibur,"
he not only shifts the face of time, but of humanity as
the film's opening scene, Merlin wades through crowds in
heated battle, searching for his diamond in the rough; the
man that would bring England out of its dimness. "Uther!"
he shouts through the walls of soldiers, as combat wages
on without reason. Finally, from the burning landscape,
a silver body of armor emerges through the masses on a noble
horse, confronted by the dwarfed but prominent wizard.
is the sword?", this man demands.
looks at him with lofty ambition. "Come to the lake and
you shall have it," he replies, unknowing of the mistakes
that lay ahead.
day later, the great wizard retrieves this legendary artifact,
the Excalibur, from the lady in the lake. The essence of
its glow as it emerges from the water is overwhelming; it
might even send chills down your spine. Once Excalibur is
in possession, Uther is proclaimed king throughout the land.
At galas, women dance with grandeur to serve as his entertainment.
During one such dance, he falls in love with the wife of
the duke, whose beauty outshines that of even the Excalibur.
attraction is simply too much to go unnoticed, however.
She is married, but that isn't enough to stop Uther. He
requests Merlin to disguise him as the woman's husband while
the duke is away at battle. Once a dragon's breath is weaved
and settled on the land, Uther floats through the fog, journeying
across the hills and into the lair of the woman he loves.
A burning passion ignites a sexual encounter between the
two. The daughter of the duke's wife, Morgana, watches them
in their heated passion. She's a developing sorceress; and
she knows her father as died in battle, and knows who this
man really is.
Uther's adultery, a child is conceived, by the name of Arthur.
In the blink of an eye, Merlin takes the child from his
mother and ventures off into the forest with it. At this
point, no one trusts Uther as king. Merlin knew it he was
a mistake in giving Excalibur to him. "You aren't the one
after all," he pronounces. But it's not like it matters
for long: during a pursuit for the sword, Uther pronounces,
"No one shall have the sword but me!", and imbeds it deep
into a stone rock. Merlin looks down at the screaming child
he holds. "You're the one, Arthur." The tales that follow
prove Merlin's words true. England could not have asked
for a better king than this child.
at least, is apparent, whence the sword is pulled from the
stone and the dark ages end. The land flourishes from the
monarchy of King Arthur, and his queen, the beautiful Guenevere.
Early on in the movie, Merlin warns the new king of what
lies ahead. "A friend will betray you," he insists at first.
"When you grow as a king, the land will thrive from it."
Once Camelot is built, the darkness in England lifts and
we are allowed to see the earthy tones that not even real
life has. One scene by a waterfall contains a landscape
bright and alive, as if magic grasped its creation.
we meet that legendary and loyal soldier, Sir Lancelot,
whose search for a warrior better than he comes to an end
upon Arthur's arrival. The sword Excalibur is too powerful,
even for he, and thus, he gives up the land he watches,
to join Arthur's court.
was a mad act of destiny that brought these characters together.
Lancelot, while Arthur's #1 knight, so to speak, falls in
love with Guenevere; but to protect the sanctity of her
marriage and his honor, he does not advance the brewing
relationship that he and she began sensing. It's obvious
on screen that both the queen and the knight feel something
for each other, but it goes unnoticed by Arthur, who was,
after all, warned of betrayal. You can easily guess what
all falls asunder. Morgana, the young sorceress we met early
in the movie, returns in adult form, with more than good
tidings on her mind. Trapping the wizard Merlin in the dragon's
temple and then causing a fall of the knights of the round
table, she conceives a child by seducing her half brother,
Arthur. The child, as chronicled through both the movie
and literature, was to be supremely powerful, and projected
to inherit Camelot once Arthur had died. In his teenage
state, the king's illegitimate son almost assumed the throne,
since Arthur, at that point, had lost his noble soldiers,
as well as his wife, to the coldness of his half-sister.
prompts the search for the legendary Holy Grail. In this
quest, the story focuses upon one of Arthur's more prolific
soldiers. Earlier on in the movie, we met him as poor boy
whose clothes and manners were anything but civilized. Here,
the boy has developed into a young Arthur; his goal for
succeeding is apparent every time he's on the quest. History
tells us that this artifact was found after much death and
destruction in Camelot, and we see that in the movie. The
land changes from its rich and colorful vibrance to the
poor and dreary tones that the movie started in. Is that
repetition of scenery? Naturally, but it's not a problem.
After all, how often does history engage in repetition?
the sword, may have been forged by a god and foretold by
a wizard, but it was found by director John Boorman, and
rightfully so. His movie is an example of the greater powers
that exist beyond humankind. Excalibur is its own character,
held by the wisest and most powerful of men, and studied
by all who have heard its name. Today's interpretations
of Arthur's sword are so cliche-ridden that the makers have
a difficult time believing the legend. In this case, Boorman
and his writers view the material as something they truly
opine. They believe in it, and treat it with passion. To
watch Excalibur glide through the crowds of soldiers is
to see it before it saw itself. The movie is seemingly ahead
of its time.
of the elements of Malory's "Le Morte D'Arthur" are intact
in the film, too: the wars, the evolution of Camelot, the
rise and fall of the round table, the study of Sir Lancelot,
the affair between Guenevere and Lancelot, the loss of Excalibur,
the search for the Holy Grail: everything. The journey is,
of course, a long and painful one, but never is it iterative
or boring. The filmmakers allow us to examine each scene
down to the naked eye: the majestic landscapes and detailed
costumes are so incredibly breathtaking that it's no wonder
each shot in the whole movie contains its own unique style.
From the gloomy atmospheric treatments of men at war to
the tapestries embroidered with symbols of virtue at Camelot,
it's a concept treatment unlike any other. Once could imagine
the obvious difficulty of costume design.
is one of those great miracles in filmmaking that set the
standards for what comes ahead. It's concept of Arthur and
the landscape that surrounds him is a benchmark for fantasy
as we know it. The first time I saw the film was back in
1992, and it was breathtaking, on a 6-inch black-and-white
TV set. Perhaps the observancy is due to the fact that "Excalibur"
depends on every element of fantasy to emerge successfully.
Set and costume photography scrambles off the screen and
into the most vigilant portions of our minds, while characters
remain focused on the material and the themes. Their personalities
reflect the ones that Thomas Malory gave them in "Le Morte
Boorman has made a name for himself in Hollywood, and that
was largely due to the success of his earlier film, "Deliverance."
He and his photographers must have had considerable patience
with this project, since word is, the costumes themselves
took nearly half a year to complete, not counting the set
design. A director like this obviously has the intention
of keeping the viewer amused for two hours and twenty minutes,
otherwise the movie might have fallen into a heap of muddled
story directions. A famous director once said that our cinema
is starved for new ideas and images. You wouldn't expect
such unique visuals to emerge from a centuries old story,
but they do anyway. By the time the movie is over, the freshness
of the concept has settled down into our minds. We've had
a great time viewing it, and we imagine the filmmakers had
a great time making it.
1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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