Excalibur (1981)
10/10
The Arthurian Epic Gloriously Brought To Life
11 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Excalibur, Starring Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Cheri Lunghi, Nicholas Clay, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, Robert Addie, Katrine Boorman, Paul Geoffrey, Clive Swift Director John Boorman, 1981 Director John Boorman and screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg worked on adapting the centuries old Thomas Malory epic "Le Morte D'Arthur" into a stunning, intensely dramatic movie masterpiece the likes of which had never been seen before. This is, for me, the most definitive version of the Arthurian saga. There is so much to admire about this film and so much to analyze but for lack of time on IMDb I can only offer portions of my praise. Boorman masterfully captures the grandiosity as well as the humanity of the fantasy legend about a young innocent who draws a sword from a stone and inherits the right of kingship, establishes the beautiful city of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table, who protect the innocent and rid the world of evil, and search endlessly for that most elusive religious artifact - the Holy Grail. First of all, we must look beyond the fantasy elements and the special effects which everyone enjoys - the magic sword Excalibur, itself a symbol of strength and kingship (in the film the Lady of the Lake who gives the sword to Arthur and who receives it again in the finale is played by one of Boorman's daughter Telsche Boorman), the elaborate details of the medieval, Celtic-Christian England from the clothing, to the fortresses, to the armor and weapons, and we must see into the heart of the long epic. First off, Nigel Terry and Nicol Williamson as Arthur and Merlin carry the movie. Their relationship as mentor and protégé has never been most wonderfully portrayed, their friendship as two men who try desperately to fulfill the ideals of brotherhood and who fail has never been more poignantly captured. The most moving part for me is still the climatic finale, in which, after the death of Arthur, and the world seems to have ended, Excalibur is brought back to the Lake and Three mysterious queens take Arthur away on a barge, all this while the dramatic music to Wagner's Siegfried's Funeral March blares triumphantly. Boorman used the music of Wagner's operas most effectively in the relevant spots in the film- the sensual Prelude to Tristan and Isolde plays as Lancelot and Guenevere have their tryst in the forest, the spiritual, ethereal strains of the Good Friday/Holy Grail music from Parsifal plays as Parsifal himself encounters the Holy Grail and Siegfried's Funeral March from Gotterdammerung opens and closes the film as both the Sword Theme and the tragic motif of Arthur's heroic death. The relationship between King Arthur, Queen Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nick Clay) is also well-developed. For once, we realize how the Queen loved her husband as a king, but because he was so consumed by his duties, she could not love him as a husband. Instead, she finds romantic-sexual gratification in an affair with Lancelot. The Quest for the Holy Grail could have been further elaborated but this is a minor quibble. The film builds up to a fiery finale. The character of the wicked sorceress Morgana (Helen Mirren) is also a strong point, and one everyone misses. She was only a small child (played by Barbara Byrne) when she witnessed the rape of her mother Igrayne (played by Boormans' daughter Katrine) by Uther. This single moment of deception and witchcraft triggered her mistrust of all men and ruins her innocence. She becomes a corrupt, greedy, power-hungry witch who even manages to trap Merlin in an icy cave. Her vengeance against Arthur brings about the final destruction as her evil son Mordred and Arthur fight to their own deaths. Well-known British actors live up to their own possible Arthurian/Brittanic heritage. Patrick Stewart (Captain of the Enterprise on Star Trek) is doing a superb performance as is Liam Neeson even though their roles are minor as knights of the Table. Clive Swift, Sir Kay, is better known as a comic actor in the British series "Keeping Up Appearances" he plays Hyancinth's husband Richard. The look of the film is a tapestry of moods. Green is magic, silver-metallic is mankind's power, the forest is a place where Lancelo and Guenvere revel in their primitive essence. It's a world of dark and light, spring and winter, happiness and despair, illusion, but other than its good versus evil themes there are many layers. Humanity is flawed, the end of the world is coming, but the world may still be renewed again. There is no greater truth than this.
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