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DVDs I think you should own #8 – Excalibur


There have been many attempts made on the Arthurian legend in cinema and many more films that have been inspired by it in some way (Monty Python’s Holy Grail anyone?) but my favourite above all others is John Boorman’s 1981 film, Excalibur.

It plays a little bit fast and loose with the legend (let’s be honest, it’s not actual history so who really cares) but all the main points are there. It’s a pretty well known story, Arthur pulls a magical sword from a stone (in this version it’s Excalibur for the sake of simplicity I think) a feat which earns him his place on the throne. The hallmark elements are all present here: Camelot, the Round Table, the Holy Grail, the Lady of the Lake and oodles of medieval battles between warring factions of knights.

More importantly the themes of leadership, loyalty, love, lust and betrayal are also here in abundance, all supported by a cast of some amazing acting talent – Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Nicol Williamson, Nigel Terry, Gabriel Byrne, Clive Swift (yes, that Clive Swift) and the sublime Helen Mirren – who make what is quite a silly story quite believable. Special mention must be made of Nicol Williamson’s demented portrayal of the mysterious, machiavellian Merlin. Somehow Boorman keeps it all in check, grounding the proceedings whenever they threaten to float away into the realms of high fantasy. His use of classical music to score it is pretty nifty too, in fact I can’t hear Siegfrieds Funeral March by Wagner without automatically thinking of this film.

The battle scenes are phenomenal (extra kudos to the armourers for the amazing display of medieval arms and armour on display here) brimming with the chaos and brutality that is so often overlooked in films like this. There is no chivalry on the battlefield here, just hacking and chopping and impaling.  The overall production design is also phenomenal, creating a convincing mythical England that serves as a wondrous backdrop to the story, only drifting into the realms of fantasy where the story demands it.

Told with an authenticity and authority it has a timelessness that almost equals that of the tale itself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Feexby permalink
    05/02/2011 21:39

    This is a brilliant film.

    The first two DVDs I bought (back in the olden days of 2000, maybe 2001) were this and John Carpenter’s The Thing. I got the two of them for twenty quid. That was considered quite good value at the time.

    I saw Excalibur at the cinema in the summer of 1981 just after I’d finished my O Levels. I think it instilled a love of film in me that’s still here today.

    • 06/02/2011 20:20

      I saw it for the fist time on TV when I was probably about 14 or 15 and fell in love with it. I think it is a beautiful and very moral film. Pretty exciting too. The balance it strikes between high fantasy and sensible drama still amazes me.

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