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Excalibur (1981)

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Merlin the magician helps Arthur Pendragon unite the Britons around the Round Table of Camelot, even as dark forces conspire to tear it apart.

Director:

John Boorman

Writers:

Thomas Malory (book), Rospo Pallenberg (adaptation) | 2 more credits »
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Popularity
2,040 ( 224)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 9 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Nigel Terry ... King Arthur
Helen Mirren ... Morgana
Nicholas Clay ... Lancelot
Cherie Lunghi ... Guenevere
Paul Geoffrey ... Perceval
Nicol Williamson ... Merlin
Robert Addie ... Mordred
Gabriel Byrne ... Uther Pendragon
Keith Buckley ... Uryens
Katrine Boorman ... Igrayne
Liam Neeson ... Gawain
Corin Redgrave ... Cornwall
Niall O'Brien Niall O'Brien ... Kay
Patrick Stewart ... Leondegrance
Clive Swift ... Ector
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Storyline

The myth of King Arthur brought once again to the screen. Uthur Pendragon is given the mystical sword Excalibur by the wizard Merlin. At his death Uthur buries the sword into a stone, and the next man that can pull it out will be King of England. Years later Arthur, Uthur's bastard son draws Excalibur and becomes king. Guided by Merlin, Arthur marries Guenivere and gathers the Knights of the Round Table. Arthur's evil half-sister Morgana sires a son with him, who may prove his downfall. Written by Greg Bole <bole@life.bio.sunysb.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

No mortal could possess it! No kingdom could command it! See more »


Certificate:

PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

10 April 1981 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Knights See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$11,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$4,519,706, 12 April 1981, Wide Release

Gross USA:

$34,967,437
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Orion Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (edited)

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

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. See more »

Goofs

When Merlin creates a fog, the prolonged mist from Morgana's mouth is clearly coming from a pipe/tube next to her cheek. Her mouth is closed at times and the thick mist still continues. See more »

Quotes

Mordred: Come, Father. Let us embrace at last.
See more »

Alternate Versions

The movie was originally put into theatrical release in 1981 as an R-rated film in the USA. Later there was an announcement of a PG rated version, but it was not widely released. The original R-rated cut is 140 minutes. Most home video versions are the R-rated version, but TV and movie channels show the PG cut, making the movie 119 minutes. The R-rated version features about 21 more minutes of graphic sex and violence. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Aquaman (2018) See more »

Soundtracks

Prelude to Tristan and Isolde
by Richard Wagner
Specially recorded by London Philharmonic Orchestra (as The London Philharmonic Orchestra)
Conducted by Norman Del Mar
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

 
The Best Theatrical Re-Telling of the Arthurian Legend--Largely Based on Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur (1485)
30 May 2007 | by classicalsteveSee all my reviews

Late in the film, King Arthur is about to fight his last battle against his estranged son Mordred. His kingdom of Camelot is falling. The knights of the Round Table are disbanding. Guinevere has entered a convent. In short, Arthur's world is collapsing. He rides to the nunnery to see Guinevere for the last time. And there, she produces the ancient timeless object hidden beneath some linen: the sword Excalibur, still gleaming, still magical, still potent to fight in the battle that Arthur cannot win. He sheathes Excalibur, and, in full knightly regalia rides with his remaining loyal knights through the English countryside, their pennants and banners flying in the wind. The fortissimo chorus of Carmina Burana accompanies their ride in perfect harmony, chanting the lyrics from the medieval poem "O Fortuna". This is the stuff of legend...

Artistic treatments of the Arthurian legends date back to illuminated codices from the Middle Ages. Thereafter the first, and one of the greatest, attempts to bring the stories into a novelistic form was written in the late 1400's by a knight, Sir Thomas Malory, entitled La Morte d'Arthur ("The Death of Arthur") which is probably the most famous work of English letters proceeding Chaucer but before Shakespeare. Even later renditions include T.H. White's "The Once and Future King". By the 20th century, theatrical adaptations began appearing as well, including "Knights of the Round Table" (1953), Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" (1963), and the musical "Camelot" by Lerner and Lowe which was possibly the most popular rendition of the story before "Excalibur". These last renditions, although they have their appeal, cannot measure up to the movie "Excalibur" which was largely based upon Malory's original tome.

Many here have detailed very well the merits of the film, and since most people know the story, I will keep this short. The reason why this is the best of the Arthurian-based films is its imagery and its dedication to the original Arthurian myths. The entire look of the film, which I have not seen in a movie since, reeks of Medieval Legend. The lush forests, the huge castles, and the glittering swords give a visual and dream-like reality. This is NOT how it was in the Middle Ages. This is how people in the Middle Ages would have liked it to have been, which is the entire point of the Arthurian myths. The filmmakers of Excalibur understood that myth is about dreams.

Several moments in the film are inspired directly from Malory and earlier Medieval codices. For example, several Medieval illuminated manuscripts feature the hand of the Lady of the Lake bestowing the sword Excalibur to Arthur. Strangely this episode, which becomes an important theme throughout Excalibur, is lacking from other theatrical versions and yet it is central to the original myth. Another is the strange rhetoric that Arthur and the land are one, and when Arthur becomes ill, the land of his kingdom becomes barren. This concept was a widely held belief in the Middle Ages: that the sovereign was essentially married to the kingdom.

Another aspect that makes this film outstanding is the portrayal of Merlin by Nicol Williamson. This was possibly the best Merlin ever to come to the large screen. Some of the most humorous moments of the film occur with Merlin. Instead of being the absent-minded wizard of "The Sword in the Stone", he is the last of the Druids, a race giving way to Medieval Christians. Worth the price of admission. It is sad that he obtained very little recognition for this portrayal.

The fact is, a viewer either experiences "aesthetic arrest" with Excalibur, or he or she doesn't. If the scenes when the knights go riding through countryside with their pennants flying behind them doesn't give you the shivers, this is not and will never be your kind of movie. If Malory had lived to see this film, he would have been awed and proud. Malory gave Arthur to the world, and Excalibur gave Arthur back to Malory.


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