King Arthur (2004 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Antoine Fuqua|
|Produced by||Jerry Bruckheimer|
|Written by||David Franzoni|
|Music by||Hans Zimmer|
|Edited by||Conrad Buff
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
World 2000 Entertainment
Green Hills Productions
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|July 7, 2004|
142 minutes (Director's cut)
|Box office||$203.6 million|
King Arthur is a 2004 Irish-British-American historical adventure film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by David Franzoni. It stars Clive Owen as the title character, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot and Keira Knightley as Guinevere.
The film is unusual in reinterpreting Arthur as a Roman officer rather than a medieval knight. Despite these departures from the source material, the Welsh Mabinogion, the producers of the film attempted to market it as a more historically accurate version of the Arthurian legends, supposedly inspired by new archaeological findings. The film was shot in England, Ireland and Wales.
Arthur (Clive Owen) is portrayed as a Roman cavalry officer, also known as Artorius Castus, the son of a Roman father and a Celtic mother, who commands a unit of Sarmatian auxiliary cavalry in Britain at the close of the Roman occupation in 467 A.D. Arthur is loyal to Rome and a devout Catholic, but follows the teachings of Pelagianism, which many consider heretical. He and his men guard Hadrian's Wall against the Woads, a group of native Britons who are rebels against Roman rule, led by the mysterious Merlin (Stephen Dillane).
Arthur and his remaining knights Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Bors (Ray Winstone), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy) and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) expect to be discharged from their service to the Empire after faithfully fulfilling a fifteen-year commitment.
However, on the night when they are to receive their freedom, Bishop Germanus (Ivano Marescotti) sends them on a final and possibly suicidal mission to rescue an important Roman family living north of Hadrian's Wall. Marius Honorius (Ken Stott) faces impending capture by the invading Saxons, who are invading from mainland Europe, led by their king Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård) and his son Cynric (Til Schweiger). According to Germanus, Marius' son Alecto is the Pope's favourite godson and may be "destined to be Pope one day". Though angry, the knights follow Arthur once more but only after he and Lancelot argue over Arthur's deeply held beliefs.
At the remote estate, Arthur discovers that Marius has immured pagans, including a Woad named Guinevere (Keira Knightley) and a small boy named Lucan. Arthur defies Marius and frees the captives before deciding to take everyone, along with Marius' family, back to Hadrian's Wall.
One night, Guinevere takes Arthur to meet with Merlin, the leader of the Woads and her father. At first, Arthur thinks Guinevere has betrayed him, but Merlin has come in peace. It is revealed in a flashback that Arthur's mother had died in a Woad attack when he was a boy. Arthur's famous sword, Excalibur, had belonged to his father and marked his burial mound. Arthur had pulled it from the mound in an effort to rescue his mother from a burning building. Merlin suggests an alliance between the Woads and the Sarmatian knights against the invading Saxons.
Marius then betrays the group, takes Lucan hostage and attempts to kill Dagonet but is shot by Guinevere with an arrow. While moving on to the south, Alecto informs Arthur that Germanus executed Pelagius after being insulted by his teachings of equality. Tristan returns from scouting the area and tells Arthur that a Saxon army is close behind them. The knights stay behind to delay the Saxons and allow the refugees to escape. They soon encounter the Saxons at an ice-covered lake bordered on each side by steep cliffs. Greatly outnumbered, Arthur, Guinevere and the knights attempt to repel them with arrows. The battle is won when Dagonet runs to the middle of the ice and breaks it with an axe at the cost of his life. Many Saxons are also killed, and the rest are forced to turn back.
Upon their return to the wall, Germanus awards the knights their discharge papers and Dagonet is buried. Guinevere attempts to persuade Arthur to remain in Britain and defend the people from the Saxons. The pair share an encounter in Arthur's room, only to be interrupted by the Saxon army's arrival. Despite Lancelot's pleas, Arthur decides to stay and defend the wall, sending his knights away to live the rest of their lives in freedom.
Now in command of the Woad forces, Arthur prepares to face the Saxon army. As the knights are leading the evacuation, they hear the Saxon drums and turn back to join Arthur.
In the climactic "Battle of Badon Hill" set just south of Hadrian's Wall, the Woads catapult flaming missiles at the Saxon army. When the hosts meet, Guinevere engages in combat with Cynric. Cerdic fights and kills Tristan before facing off with Arthur. Meanwhile, Cynric disarms Guinevere and is engaged by Lancelot. Cynric shoots Lancelot with a Saxon crossbow. Lancelot then throws his sword into Cynric and kills him. Lancelot dies with Guinevere at his side. Arthur kills Cerdic and the Saxons are defeated.
While he realises that his ideal Rome exists only in his dreams, Arthur despairs over the deaths of his men. The film ends with the marriage of Arthur and Guinevere, after which Merlin proclaims him to be their king. United by their defeat of the Saxons and the retreat of the Romans, Arthur promises to lead the Britons against future invaders. Three horses that had belonged to Tristan, Dagonet and Lancelot run free across the landscape, as the closing narrative from Lancelot describes how fallen knights live on in tales passed from generation to generation.
- Clive Owen as Arthur
- Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot
- Mads Mikkelsen as Tristan
- Joel Edgerton as Gawain
- Hugh Dancy as Galahad
- Ray Winstone as Bors the Younger
- Ray Stevenson as Dagonet
- Keira Knightley as Guinevere
- Stephen Dillane as Merlin
- Stellan Skarsgård as Cerdic
- Til Schweiger as Cynric
- Sean Gilder as Jols
- Pat Kinevane as Horton
- Ivano Marescotti as Bishop Germanus
- Ken Stott as Marius Honorius
- Lorenzo De Angelis as Alecto
- Stefania Orsola Garello as Fulcinia
- Alan Devine as British Scout
- Charlie Creed-Miles as Ganis
- Johnny Brennan as Lucan
- David Murray as Merlin's Lieutenant
The film was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Antoine Fuqua; David Franzoni, the writer of the original draft script for Gladiator, wrote the screenplay. The historical consultant for the film was John Matthews, an author known for his books on esoteric Celtic spirituality, some of which he co-wrote with his wife Caitlin Matthews. The research consultant was Linda A. Malcor, co-author of From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reinterpretation of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail, in which possible non-Celtic sources for the Arthurian legends are explored.
The film's main set, a replica of a section of Hadrian's Wall, was the largest film set ever built in Ireland, and was located in a field in County Kildare. The replica was one kilometre long, which took a crew of 300 building workers four and a half months to build. The fort in the film was based on the Roman fort named Vindolanda, which was built around 80 AD just south of Hadrian's Wall in what is now called Chesterholm in Northern England.
Despite the film's supposedly historically grounded approach, much artistic licence is taken regarding historical figures, peoples, events, religion, wardrobe and weaponry. The film places the story of Arthur not in its better-known medieval setting, but in the (still plausible) earlier times of antiquity, the early dawn of the Middle Ages – as did the earliest versions of the Arthur story. It would appear that the Arthur depicted in the film is based most closely upon Ambrosius Aurelianus, the Romano-Briton who fought against the Saxons in the 5th century, and was probably the leader of the Romano-British at the Battle of Mons Badonicus (Mount Badon). Nevertheless, Arthur's full name in the film is Artorius Castus, referring to Lucius Artorius Castus, a historical Roman active in Britain in the 2nd or 3rd century. It is specified Arthur was given the ancestral name of a legendary leader.
The film is loosely based on the "Sarmatian hypothesis", formulated by C. Scott Littleton and Ann C. Thomas in 1978, which holds that the Arthurian legend has a historical nucleus in the Sarmatian heavy cavalry troops stationed in Britain, referencing the similarities between the legends of king Arthur and the older legends of Nartian king Batraz. In the 2nd century, 5,500 Iazyges were transported there as auxiliaries during the Marcomannic Wars. However, the hypothesis is not accepted by scholars who say it lacks a solid base.
Roman political issues
In the film, the Roman legions withdraw from Britain in AD 467; in reality, it was completed in the year 410, nearly 60 years before. Similarly, the opening text dictates that "King Arthur and his Knights rose from a real hero who lived [...] in a period often called the Dark Ages". The film, however, is set in 467. The Dark Ages actually occurred in Sub-Roman Britain after the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by Odoacer in 476, nine years after the date for the setting of the film. The current Roman Emperor in the film's time would have been Anthemius.
The Roman family which Arthur rescues lives north of Hadrian's Wall. This mission would be unlikely because the Wall represented the extent of Roman rule in Britain, except for brief periods of occupation during the 2nd century AD during which time they got as far north as Falkirk in the Central Lowlands of Scotland, where pieces of the Antonine Wall are still visible; particularly in Callendar Park. Romanized client states such as that of the Votadini did exist north of the wall even into the Sub-Roman era.
Britons and Saxons
The Picts are called "Woads". This word is a reference to one plant the Picts may have used to make blue paint; however, the use of woad by the Picts is contested by scholars, and the historical Picts were never known by this name. In an interview Antoine Fuqua stated that they used "Wodes" (sic) instead of "Picts" because they thought the latter sounded "a little weird". Nevertheless, John Matthews said in an online article that the name substitution was "meant to echo similar belittling titles given to enemies".
The 9th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions the arrival of the Saxon leaders Cerdic and Cynric in Britain (at Hampshire) in 495. According to the Chronicle Cynric succeeded Cerdic as king of Wessex in 534 (Cerdic was the founder of the kingdom). Thus the two could not have died at the battle of Mount Badon. The battle is thought to have been fought sometime between 490 and 516.
The Saxons are shown attacking Hadrian's Wall from the north. By 467 the Saxons were already occupying parts of Britain far south of the wall. Later in the film, Cerdic stops a warrior from raping a woman because it would lead to less-than-pure Saxon blood. This scene references the long-held belief that the Anglo-Saxons eradicated the Romano-Britons from the eastern part of the island. This contention, largely based on linguistic evidence, has been challenged by modern genetic analysis, which suggests extensive mixing between Anglo-Saxon and Briton populations. Some historians (and fiction writers) have even suggested that Cerdic himself was at least part Briton. His name "Cerdic" has been argued to be a Germanised form of a Celtic name such as Ceretic or Caradoc.
Historically, Sarmatians were armoured in the manner of cataphracts (full-length coats of scale armour); the film's Sarmatians are armoured with a mishmash of pseudo-Roman, Turkish, Mongol and Hunnic designs. The Saxons historically used bows (to a limited extent) and spears instead of crossbows during the period. Though there is evidence for the use of some form of crossbows by Romans (calling them manuballistae) and, some claim, the Picts, the weapon was still not widely used in England until much later.
Similarly, the Woads use a trebuchet-like weapon to hurl flaming missiles at the Saxons, though the trebuchet was not re-introduced to Britain until the Siege of Dover in 1216. The Romans, however, reportedly used an early form of the trebuchet in their sieges.
The real Pelagius was a monk, not a bishop. He engaged Saint Augustine of Hippo in a debate on the theological issue of the relationship between grace and free will. However, the film confuses the issue of political freedoms and social choices (which were not issues in political debate in the 5th/6th centuries) with the principle of free will in relationship to God. When Arthur informs the people that "You ...were free from your first breath!", Roger Ebert notes that he is both "anticipating by a millennium or so the notion that all men are born free, and overlooking the detail that his knights have been pressed into involuntary servitude." The Pelagian heresy denied original sin with its doctrine of the bondage of the will and the need for healing by God's grace. Nor was Pelagius executed for heresy in Rome as the film indicates. He is believed to have died decades before 467 AD, likely of old age.
St. Germanus of Auxerre's second (and last) mission to Britain was twenty years before (447 AD) and he died the following year. Germanus is venerated as a saint by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church and Anglican Communion and, although portrayed in the film as a cruel and pompous aristocrat, historically he "extended his hospitality to all sorts of persons, washed the feet of the poor and served them with his own hands, while he himself fasted."
The film implies that the Pope (who in 467 was Pope Hilarius) was in control of the Western Roman Empire, although it was actually ruled by the Emperor and de facto controlled by the Magistri Militum and other regional governors. The Pope would not gain the political power to grant lands and other comparable privileges until centuries after the setting of the film. The film seems to be implying a literal interpretation of the Donation of Constantine, a document purportedly written in the 4th century, but in actuality an 8th-century forgery.
Elements of the film's promotion have likewise been criticized as historically unsound. Its tagline "The True Story Behind the Legend" has been criticised as false. A trailer for the film claims that historians now agree that Arthur was a real person because of alleged "recent" archaeological findings, yet there is no consensus amongst historians on Arthur's historicity and no recent archaeological find proves Arthur's existence; the so-called "Arthur stone", discovered in 1998 in securely dated 6th century contexts amongst the ruins at Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, created a stir but has subsequently been of little use as evidence.
The film holds a 31% 'Rotten' rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of 7 February 2015, with 58 positive of 185 reviews being positive with the critics consensus being "The magic is gone, leaving a dreary, generic action movie". David Edelstein of Slate called the film "profoundly stupid and inept" and added, "it's an endless source of giggles once you realise that its historical revisionism has nothing to do with archeological discoveries and everything to do with the fact that no one at Disney would green-light an old-fashioned talky love triangle with a hero who dies and an adulterous heroine who ends up in a nunnery." A. O. Scott of the New York Times further remarked that the film was "a blunt, glowering B picture, shot in murky fog and battlefield smoke, full of silly-sounding pomposity and swollen music (courtesy of the prolifically bombastic Hans Zimmer). The combat scenes, though boisterous and brutal, are no more coherent than the story, which requires almost as much exposition as the last Star Wars film. Luckily there is an element of broad, brawny camp that prevents King Arthur from being a complete drag."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, however, had a more positive response to the film and awarded it three out of four stars, writing, "That the movie works is because of the considerable production qualities and the charisma of the actors, who bring more interest to the characters than they deserve. There is a kind of direct, unadorned conviction to the acting of Clive Owen and the others; raised on Shakespeare, trained for swordfights, with an idea of Arthurian legend in their heads since childhood, they don't seem out of time and place like the cast of Troy. They get on with it."
Robin Rowland criticised critics who disliked the film for its Dark Age setting. Rowland pointed out that several Arthurian novels are set in the Dark Ages, like Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset and Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment). However, these works have little in common with the film's story and Sarmatian angle. In response to criticism of the setting consultant on the film Linda A. Malcor said: "I think these film-makers did a better job than most could have done when it comes to giving us something besides knights in tin foil and damsels in chiffon. ...[they] deserve a lot of praise for the effort that they made." Fellow Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe's opinion was negative.
An unrated director's cut of the film has been released; it has extra footage of battle scenes as well as more scenes between Lancelot and Guinevere, whose traditional love triangle with Arthur is only hinted at here. The battle scenes are also bloodier and more graphic.
Several scenes are also omitted from the director's cut, including one where the knights sit around a camp fire asking about their intended Sarmatian life, in which Bors reveals that his children do not even have names, most simply have numbers. In addition, a sex scene between Guinevere and Arthur is shifted to be chronologically before he is informed of the incoming Saxons towards Hadrian's Wall. This seemingly minor change arguably helps the story flow more smoothly. In the original film he is seen in full battle armour, contemplating a broken image of Pelagius on his floor, and then is disturbed by a call to come outside. When he comes outside, he is hastily putting on a shirt, and his hair is disheveled. In the Director's Cut, after an intimate moment between Arthur and Guinevere explaining Arthur's morals, they carry on into their sexual encounter, and are thus disturbed so that Arthur can be briefed on the Saxons. During the sexual encounter, he is wearing the same outfit he wears during the briefing. The scene where he is examining Pelagius's image is removed.
Despite these many drastic diversions from the source material (including the Welsh Mabinogion), the producers of the film attempted to market it as a more historically accurate version of the Arthurian legends. Other liberties were taken with the actors' appearances: Keira Knightley's breasts were enlarged for the US theatrical film poster. This practice angered Knightley, who says that it "comes from market research that clearly shows that other women refuse to look at famous actresses and stars with small breasts." Later in 2006, Knightley claimed she is "not allowed to be on a magazine cover in the US without at least a C cup because it 'turns people off'."
- List of films based on Arthurian legend
- List of historical drama films
- Celtic mythology in popular culture
- Ryan, Dermot (2008-07-01). "Hollywood heavyweights fly in for a reel taste of Shakespeare". Evening Herald. Retrieved 2010-09-21.
- 'Making of' featurette on DVD release of the film
- Riederer, Chris. King Arthur - Key historical facts.. Retrieved September 9, 2007.
- C.Scott Littleton - A.C. Thomas: "The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends." Journal of American Folklore 91, 1978, pp. 512-527
- Schultz, Cathy (2004). "KING ARTHUR: Romans and Saxons and Picts, oh my!," History in the Movies
- Richard Wadge, "A British or Sarmatian Tradition," Folklore, Vol. 98, No. 2 (1987), pp. 204-215.
- Cathy Schultz, "KING ARTHUR: Romans and Saxons and Picts, oh my!," History in the Movies
- Lambert, Kym (2004) The Problem of the Woad. Retrieved 1-27-07.
- Gilchrist, Todd "Interview: Antoine Fuqua, Keira Knightley and Clive Owen revisit the round table with King Arthur". "It was a little weird in the dialogue when we did a reading, to hear people say 'picts'. It came off kind of odd, for some reason, when they spoke it. So we went with Wodes." Retrieved 12-18-2006.
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 458 - A.D. 500
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, A.D. 501 - A.D. 560
- O'Sullivan, Thomas D., The De Excidio of Gildas, 1978. These dates are not universally accepted, as some scholars argue for a date in the mid 5th century. Cf. Lapidge, Michael, "Gildas's Education and the Latin Culture of Sub-Roman Britain" in Gildas: New Approaches, 1984.
- Gildas, De Excido Britanniae
- Cf. Alfred Duggan, Conscience of the King; Stephen Lawhead, Pendragon Cycle series; David Drake, The Dragon Lord
- Ebert, Roger. "King Arthur", July 7, 2004, RogerEbert.com
- "Pelagius and Pelagianism", Catholic Encyclopedia
- "St. Germain", Catholic Encyclopedia
- Thurston, Herbert, S.J. Butler's Lives of the Saints, c1956, p251-252
- Youngs, Ian (2004). "King Arthur film history defended." BBC News Online.
- N. J. Higham, King Arthur, Myth-Making and History (London: Routledge, 2002), pp.11-37 has a good summary of the debate on Arthur's existence.
- "Early Medieval Tintagel: An Interview with Archaeologists Rachel Harry and Kevin Brady", The Heroic Age, 1999
- Green, Thomas. (1998 ) Notes to "The Historicity and Historicisation of Arthur." www.arthuriana.co.uk
- "King Arthur Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-02-07.
- Edelstein, David (July 7, 2004). "Arthur: On the Rocks – The once and future king, in his dreariest picture yet.". Slate. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
- Scott, A. O. (July 7, 2004). "The Once and Future Fury: Knights Go for the Jugular". The New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
- Ebert, Roger (July 7, 2004). "King Arthur review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
- Cite error: The named reference
Rowlandwas invoked but never defined (see the help page).
- "Enlarging Keira Knightley’s Breasts". Posterwire.com. Retrieved 2012-05-29.
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