I’ve lost count of how many King Arthur movies I’ve watched all these years.
But “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” was the only one where whores fished out the monarch (Charlie Hunnam) from the river, like a Biblical Moses, and raised him in a brothel.
He grew up a-la Robin Hood with his gang of ruffians in Londinium, the Roman city forerunner of London.
I found the movie heretic, gritty and funny. You can feel the dirt and the grime, the cold of metal, the texture of leather, the hardness of wood and rock.
No dragons, though. Instead, this Guy Ritchie-directed epic fantasy action adventure featured a Camelot with snakes as big as subway trains and rampaging tuskers longer than football fields.
Beneath the castle lived an octopus-like version of the three winged infernal goddesses of vengeance, the Furies. Here, they are the Syrens, who feed off the blood of love.
The usurper king, Vortigern (Jude Law), brother of Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), summons them with a bell. And he has to murder someone he loves each time he asks them to grant him power.
Unfortunately, there’s no Merlin in the story. The filmmakers must be reserving the appearance of the great magician-mentor of King Arthur for future episodes still in the drawing boards.
What they conjured to be Arthur’s adviser was a gaunt-faced female Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) whose eyes blacken out whenever she works her spells.
Most of all, this version of Arthur is a feral street fighter turned reluctant king, inadvertently created by his father’s murderer, Vortigern.
Of course, history says Vortigern was not Uther’s brother. But then Arthur himself has been everything from a Celtic warrior to a Roman centurion and no one can say for sure whether he even existed, so who cares? He’s a legend.
“In our version of the story, Arthur’s life starts small: an urchin in a brothel, running the streets, learning to fight and dodging the law with his mates. Then the actions of others—some with good, some with not-so-good intentions—force him to expand his vision of who he could be,” says Ritchie, who also co-wrote and produced the film.
“Guy has taken the classic hero’s journey and created an origin story with a very accessible Arthur for a new generation,” adds Charlie Hunnam. “Our Arthur has grown up fending for himself, rough and ready, carving out a little world where he’s a prince among thieves. But he’s no noble soul looking for a cause.”
Nevertheless, his destiny is looking for him. As soon as he comes into contact with Excalibur, that extraordinary piece of iron firmly embedded in granite, his life changed forever.
Yet, “This is not your father’s King Arthur,” producer Akiva Goldsman stressed.
“This isn’t a man faced with removing the sword from stone who’s thinking, ‘Could it be me? Will it be me?’ This is a man who’s thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here? Don’t let this be me.’ In fact, he has no idea what accomplishing such a feat will mean for him, but he suspects it won’t have a desirable outcome. And he’d be right.”
“As far as he knows, Arthur was always poor. He’s had to take anything he wanted, he’s never been given anything,” was how Charlie saw the monarch he played. “When he grasps hold of Excalibur, it overpowers him in every way. He rejects it and anything that comes with it. He doesn’t want the responsibility.”
As bad luck would have it, Arthur is shipped off to Camelot where like every man of a certain age, he’s subjected to a test: to pull a sword from a stone, a futile effort for most as only one man is destined to do it.
Vortigern imposed the test precisely to find his nephew, Arthur, the “Born King”, so he can get rid of the ultimate threat to his power.
So, passing that test is a death sentence.
But after everything’s said and done, it’s good entertainment.
“Making movies is like watching movies. It boils down to wanting to have fun,” Ritchie professed.
“There are certain genres we loved as kids that we filmmakers feel can be done for a modern audience in a way that wasn’t possible back when we watched them. I hope that pulling that sword from the stone and going on a real hero’s journey with this ‘King Arthur’ can give today’s moviegoers the same pleasure we experienced in the theater when we were lads, but in a fresh and exciting way.”