King Arthur (2004)

Rating: B

Dir: Antoine Fuqua
Star: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, Stellan Skarsgård

If you’re going to set yourself up as the “real” story of King Arthur, with the tagline “The True Story Behind the Legend,” then you had better make sure you are, or you will find historical experts lining up to take pot-shots at you. And it’s probably best if you don’t have your leading lady’s breasts digitally enlarged for the US poster (see right): it makes it difficult to take claims of painstaking accuracy seriously. That said, knowing little about such things and caring less, I enjoyed this, purely as a non-historical romp.

Arthur (Owen) here, is a half-Roman, half-Briton, at the tail end of the Imperial occupation of our island; he and his men are sent on a last mission, to bring back an important Roman family, who are in danger of being swamped by the invading Saxons under Cerdic (Skarsgård), as they sweep down from North of Hadrian’s Wall. On the way, Arthur rescues Guinevere (Knightley), a “Woad”, and finds his loyalties being torn betwen his two cultures. In other words: Saxon dregs, and rough king rules. As noted, as any kind of history, it’s completely bogus, and as any kind of re-imagining of Arthurian legend, it isn’t a patch on Excalibur – or even Monty Python. However, if you want to discard those aspects, and treat it simply as an epic, it works very well.

The cast is solid, and the combat scenes excellent: there’s one on a frozen lake that is definitely up there with the best such sequences, while I also appreciated the way the final battle unfolded without any use of dialogue. There are certain modern aspects that seem out of place – Arthur is more concerned with 21st-century conceits like personal freedom than I suspect he might be, though Owen delivers what he’s given with enough conviction to make it work. However, the best line goes to Guinevere: reminded before battle by Lancelot that “There’s a large number of lonely men out there,” her response is perfect: “Don’t worry. I won’t let them rape you.” You go, girl – whether or not your breasts live up to American standards.