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Excalibur (1981) Poster

(1981)

Trivia

Helen Mirren and Nicol Williamson were initially reluctant to work with each other, as they had both been in a disastrous production of "Macbeth" and were not on speaking terms. John Boorman cast them because their natural animosity would be perfect. According to Mirren, she and Williamson, free from the problems with Macbeth, "wound up becoming very good friends" during filming.
The initial fight scene in the movie had to be filmed three times. It was filmed at night and the first two times, all the film came out underexposed due to a fault in the exposure meter. The cameraman had a nervous breakdown over the issue and quit.
Morgana's breastplate is in John Boorman's home. In his will, it will be given to Helen Mirren.
Igrayne, The Lady of the Lake, and young Mordred were all played by John Boorman's real-life children: Katrine Boorman, Telsche Boorman, and Charley Boorman.
John Boorman was originally aiming at making a movie based on "The Lord of the Rings". However, he did not acquire the rights, and decided to make this movie instead.
The Irish extras fighting each other did not want to stop after John Boorman yelled cut-"to settle old scores," says Boorman.
The names of the 25 knights inscribed on the Winchester Round Table are given as: Galahad, Lancelot du Lac, Gawain, Percivale, Lionell, Bors de Ganis, Kay, Tristram de Lyones, Gareth, Bedivere, Bleoberis, La Cote Male Taile, Lucan, Palomedes, Lamorak, Safer, Pelleas, Hector de Maris, Dagonet, Degore, Brunor le Noir, Le Bel Desconneu, Alymere, and Mordred.
When Morgana gives birth, Helen Mirren's head is up through a hole in the table while a real pregnant woman lies on the table with her head covered.
United Artists told John Boorman that he could cast anyone as Merlin except Nicol Williamson.
It rained every single day of the shoot, causing most of the movie to be shot in dull light. The constant rain also added to the lushness of the foliage.
John Boorman wanted the story to be the focus of the movie rather than the actors. Therefore, he cast actors who were relatively unknown at the time to American audiences. Among them were Gabriel Byrne (Uther), Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance), Liam Neeson (Gawain), Helen Mirren (Morgana) and Nicholas Clay (Launcelot). Only Nicol Williamson (Merlin) was relatively familiar to American moviegoers.
The cameraman waited with a camera running for several days for the shot of a crow eating an eye. They had to wait for the crow to really eat the sheep's eye.
Before the final battle, Arthur's knights are camped around a "Stonehenge" like formation on a hill. The rocks were fake and part of the set. According to John Boorman, some American tourists were driving by down below and saw the formation. Thinking they were real, the tourists hiked up the hill, and Boorman had to explain to them that they were not real, but part of a movie set.
The trial by combat set in the woods was originally to be the set for the Rivendel counsel chamber in John Boorman's version of "Lord of the Rings", which failed to get made.
Max von Sydow was originally cast as Merlin.
Liam Neeson had never ridden a horse prior to working on this film.
All of the armor used in the film was hand made out of aluminum, primarily by British armorer Terry English. English custom-fit the suits of armor for the principal characters, but kept the overall style the same for members of different groups, especially prominent in the nearly "uniform" armor of the Knights of the Round Table. English can be seen in the film during the tourney scenes; he is the blacksmith who looks up at Arthur (Nigel Terry) when the future king is chasing a thief and stops to contemplate filching a sword from the armorers' tent.
The original cut of the film was over three hours long. Among the many scenes that were lost - but was briefly glimpsed in the trailer - was a scene where Lancelot rescued Guenevere from a forest bandit.
The Charm of Making spoken by Merlin and Morgana, is an attempt at Old Irish that translates to: "Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making." The phonetic rendering, as spoken in the movie, is: /ana:l nathrakh, u:rth va:s bethud, dokhje:l djenve:/. In Irish, the phrase is: 'Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis bheatha, do thuar dhéanamh', which is pronounced similarly, but not exactly as in the movie.
According to John Boorman's DVD commentary, the sword prop of Excalibur and the Holy Grail props, used in the movie, are in his house.
The black smoke in Arthur's first siege on a castle was created by burning tires. It left black flakes on a nearby town.
The love scene between Guinevere and Lancelot was full of mosquitoes, causing even more discomfort.
According to Gabriel Byrne, his sex scene with Katrine Boorman was filmed with the two separated. He performed his close-ups in the scene with a pin cushion.
Future director Neil Jordan spent a considerable time on set filming a "making of" documentary.
Guinevere's wedding dress was hand made from hundreds of beads. Young brides requested the dress to no avail.
Most of the forest scenes and Excalibur (the sword) were back lit by green lights, giving it a magical quality.
All the forests shown in this movie are a mile away from John Boorman's house in Ireland.
Polo ponies were used, because they are easier to control than regular horses, and could be ridden with one hand, while the other held the various weapons used in the film.
The flowers on the forest floor and the apple blossoms on the trees are natural. The forests were blocked off so the vegetation could not be trampled down.
When Uryens knights Arthur with Excalibur, he's visibly trembling from emotion. In reality, Nigel Terry was shivering from the cold, as they were filming in a castle moat.
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John Boorman directed Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) to help fund this. When that turned out to be one of the biggest bombs ever made, this became his comeback.
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Baby Arthur grabbing a hold of Igrayne's hair was a coincidence.
Some of the crew agreed that Gabriel Byrne's Irish accent made "One night with Igrayne" sound like "One night with your granny".
The hand that holds Excalibur belongs to John Boorman's daughter Telsche Boorman, lying under water.
The scene in the woods at night, where Merlin is with the young Arthur, was shot on a set, so the animals featured could be controlled.
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A pipe was used to create the mist coming out of Morgana's mouth, in the scene were Merlin creates a fog.
John Boorman used many of the same locations that he had used for Zardoz (1974). In fact, most of these are quite close to his house in Annamoe, County Wicklow, Ireland.
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This was Helen Mirren's breakout movie, the movie that first put her on the map (to film audiences anyway. She was a renowned Shakespearean stage actress before this).
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The roast rabbit, with which Perceval tempts Lancelot, is real.
Camelot shown from afar is a model reflected into camera with a mirror.
John Boorman didn't like how the balance was off, on Dolby sound mixes at various test screenings, so he changed the mix to mono.
To make it easier to do visual effects, the film was shot in 1.85:1.
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John Boorman had wanted to call this "Merlin", but CBS had a show called Mr. Merlin (1981), so they had exclusive usage of the "Merlin" name. It began shooting as "Knights", but Ridley Scott had registered "Knight" for a medieval epic, he was planning with Walter Hill, as his follow-up to Alien (1979). They were already shooting before they decided on "Excalibur".
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This is the same director, and much of the same creative team, that put together Deliverance (1972).
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Reflectors were used to give the armor its glow, and they kept having a problem with camera reflections. Every time it rained, the armor had to be rubbed down so it wouldn't leave a residue.
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John Boorman revealed on the DVD commentary for The Tailor of Panama (2001) that Pierce Brosnan auditioned the role of King Lot.
The red sun at the end was created with reflective disc with a lamp shining on it through a mirror. It was then superimposed.
Sir Sean Connery was briefly attached to play King Arthur in the early stages of the project. He would later play Arthur in First Knight (1995).
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John Boorman had planned a film adaptation of the Merlin legend, as early as 1969, but the studio, to which he offered it (United Artists), rejected his concept, offering him The Lord of the Rings instead. When that fell through, he went back to this film.
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According to Helen Mirren, John Boorman sacked dogs from the film for not acting to his satisfaction. While they looked threatening, they didn't act as such.
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The Camelot sets were usually bigger than the stage itself. Walls had to be cut out to accommodate it.
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Nigel Terry was 35 when playing Arthur from a teenager to a 20-to-30-something king, and then finally as an old man. Similarly, 29-year old Cherie Lunghi played Guinevere from teenager to full adult queen to an old woman living out the rest of her life in quiet misery as a nun.
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In real-life, Nicholas Clay, Nicol Williamson, Corin Redgrave, Robert Addie and Niall O'Brien all died from cancer. Charley Boorman was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2010, and became a cancer survivor.
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When Merlin is trying to catch a fish, it was trapped underwater by blocking it off with stones.
The fight between Arthur and Lancelot was filmed on the Powerscourt estate. The battle scenes in Sir Laurence Olivier's film version of Henry V (1944) were also filmed there due to wartime restrictions in England.
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Many actors had been mentioned for the part of Merlin, including Max von Sydow, Sir Sean Connery and oddest of all, Lee Marvin. The actor who John Boorman wanted most, was Donald Sutherland, but he was scheduled to do Ordinary People (1980).
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Katrine Boorman and Cherie Lunghi did the nude scenes themselves, without the use of a body double.
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The corridors of Camelot were extended by the use of a matte painting.
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The scene where Uther crosses in the mist, they used dry ice on a studio set.
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The location for the Duke of Cornwall's castle is now a housing estate.
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In the legend, when King Arthur died in his final battle. His body was taken to his final resting place in the Isle of Avalon, where he was buried.
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The graphic scene, in which Arthur is impaled with Mordred's spear, and then pulls himself towards Mordred, was mirrored in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002), when Shinzon, who is impaled with a pole, pulls himself toward Captain Picard. Sir Patrick Stewart plays Leondegrance.
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John Boorman bought the horse that Percival rides to champion Guinevere.
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A fake crane shot was done during the discussion about creating the round table. It was achieved by walking backwards on a raised platform.
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The film was referred to as "The Boorman Family Project".
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During the making of The Tailor of Panama (2001), Pierce Brosnan told John Boorman that his "Excalibur" audition had been a disaster. After it ended, he couldn't get his battered old car to start, and that he had to abandon it, and walk home on a dismally wet day. When he got back to his small bedsit flat, he felt that the day had gone so badly, that he had considered quitting acting altogether.
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Sir Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance) is only twelve years older than Cherie Lunghi (Guinevere).
The shot with the Grail filling itself, was achieved by pumping wine through a tube stuck through the bottom of the cup.
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According to John Boorman, the love scene between Lancelot and Guinevere in the forest, was filmed on a very cold night, but Nicholas Clay and Cherie Lunghi performed the scene nude anyway.
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A remake, directed by Bryan Singer, spent years in development hell, until it was cancelled.
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Gold light was reflected on to the walls in Camelot.
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The sky, during the discussion about creating the round table, has superimposed stars.
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In the Doctor Who (1963) serial "Battlefield", The Doctor, and his companion Ace, encountered Morgana and Mordred from another dimension, where The Doctor is mistaken for Merlin. Nigel Terry would appear in Doctor Who (2005), and Cherie Lunghi would star opposite Billie Piper in Secret Diary of a Call Girl (2007).
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Nicholas Clay also appeared, albeit in a very small role, in Merlin (1998).
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This was shot so close to John Boorman's house, that it is the only time that he was able to sleep in his own bed throughout the entire shoot of a movie.
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Peter Benson had a featured role, that was removed in post-production.
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Liam Neeson went on to play Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999). The legend of King Arthur was one of George Lucas' influences behind the "Star Wars" film franchise. Charley Boorman's best friend Ewan McGregor played young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels, and is Qui-Gon's Jinn's apprentice, before becoming Anakin Skywalker's Master.
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The round table was built in sections.
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Michael Beck auditioned for Lancelot.
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Katrine Boorman was widely felt to be miscast as Igrayne.
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Niall O'Brien would later have a small role in Braveheart (1995), as a British General.
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Director of Photography Alex Thomson was a a last minute addition. The original DOP left the project at a very early stage.
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The Powerscourt Estate location was also used for King Arthur (2004).
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The score with its dramatic Gregorian chant background was undeniably influenced by The Omen (1976).
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Knightriders (1981), a movie that mixes motorbikes with Mediaeval customs, was released in the same year as this Morte d'Arthur legend film Excalibur (1981).
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