Excalibur is director John Boorman’s retelling of the King Arthur legend. Using Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as source material. Boorman crafts a sweeping, epic tale of kings, wizards, and knights; of romance, duty, honor, and betrayal.
As the story opens, the various warlords of early Britain are fighting for control of the island. Uther Pendragon makes an uneasy peace with the other warlords after convincing the wizard Merlin to give him Excalibur, the sword of power. Uther betrays the peace by lusting after Igrayne, the wife of his chief rival. Using magic to trick Igrayne, Uther sleeps with her. Ultimately she gives birth to Arthur, and Merlin takes him away.
Eventually, war breaks out again, and the other warlords hunt down Uther for his betrayal and kill him. But before he dies, he thrusts Excalibur into a rock saying that only he will wield the sword. Merlin casts a spell on the sword making sure that someday Arthur will be able to draw the sword from the stone to become king.
After a few years, Britannia still does not have a king. All of the knights have gathered for a large tournament to choose the new king. Arthur, who is now a squire, arrives with his adoptive father and brother, who are both knights.
The winner of the tournament, Leondegrance (played by Patrick Stewart), is not able to draw the sword from the stone. Arthur’s brother is preparing to enter the tournament, but is missing his sword. Arthur cannot find his brother’s sword. Frantically looking for the lost weapon, Arthur comes upon Excalibur and is able to draw it from the stone, effectively making him king.
Arthur unites Britain, marries Guenevere, establishes the Round Table and peace reigns. But eventually, evil rears its ugly head and threatens to tear the kingdom apart.
Nigel Terry show great acting range playing Arthur as a bumbling squire, a unsure king at the beginning of his reign, a seasoned king at the height of his powers, and ultimately a king aged by betrayal, lost love and doubt. Cherie Lunghi portrays Guenevere, a woman who loves the myth of Arthur, and not the man. Nicholas Clay plays Lancelot, at first Arthur’s best friend ultimately his betrayer. Nicol Williamson plays Merlin, the world weary wizard who sees his religion coming to an end. Helen Mirren rounds out the cast as Morgana, who lusts after Merlin’s power, but cannot control it once she has tricked him into revealing his secrets.
Overall, Excalibur is a very well done film. The Medieval combat is gritty and realistic. However, the armor is not quite convincing. It is obviously aluminum to cut down on weight and quite frankly looks kind of fake. But this is a minor quibble and does little to to detract from the overall impact of the film.
Look for Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Ciaran Hinds in supporting roles.
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Worth a look if you like broad, sweeping, epic historical dramas.
Skip it if historical or Medieval dramas are not your thing.