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King Arthur (2004)

by on 2012/02/15

“You and I are not the polite people who live in poems.”

* * *

I fished this movie out of a delete bin a few days ago. Starring Clive Owen, this film, I thought, would be a reasonable addition our fantasy theme this month.

It should be said that I’ve never liked Clive Owen (Children of Men). I always thought he had a face as impassive as a coal shovel, with a manner as interesting as a blancmange pudding. So I slid this flick into my Playstation 3, licked my poison pen and got ready to write something scathing.

As the credits roll, I find that I simply can’t do it. I know, I know. I’m as surprised as you are.

Clive Owen is actually kind of great in this gritty, dirty “historic” take on the Arthurian legend.

By gritty I mean, literally covered in mud and arterial splatter. This was a film so edgy that Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) nearly killed a horse while practicing archery.  A horse. And that was just the rehearsal.

This is not the courtly love of First Knight – this is more anarcho-syndicalist peasants rooting around for tubers and filth in a ditch.

It makes sense. The intro to the film professes to be a more historically accurate version of the Once and Future king, based on archeological findings. They must have found masses of dismembered skeletons and decapitated skulls if this movie is any indication.

How about this for turning the legend on its ear? Arthur (Owen) is a Roman calvary officer, Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) is a Sarmatian man conscripted by Romans and none too happy about it. Merlin (Stephen Dillane) is slathered in blue paint, with an evil eye tattoo carved into his forehead. He’s tribal and scary – an ancient Woad. Another primitive Woad is the willful Guinevere (Keira Knightley), she is rescued, starving and filth-encrusted from a Catholic dungeon.

The British Isles are at war – pagan tribes against the occupying Romans and the Catholic church. Pagans were being tortured and holed up in dank, reaking dungeons. There is slavery, violence and death.

I’m not one for talkie films. I like the quiet. To me, words are quite over-rated, particularly when it comes to these kind of movies. Clive Owen is suitably, pleasingly silent. And in his silence, he is noble. He believes in justice, freedom and equality. 

Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Bors (Ray Winstone), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy) and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) were likeable, loyal and fierce. We know that Arthur is wonderful because these men love him.  And that these men respected Arthur was enough for me.

When Owen did speak, I felt a little chill. Owen was actually quite cool. Regal, imperial, honourable. I respected him. In this film. You know, this once.

Even the wispy Keira Knightly kicked serious Anglo Saxon savage ass in this movie. It was good to see, and fascinating to think how very, very few steps away from tribal the British Empire was not very long ago.

Loin-clothed, war-painted, bloody bludgeoning savages.

Damned entertaining.

You did well, Clive Owen. But I am watching you.

* * *

142 min (Director’s cut)

Rated R for hacking, slashing, skull-cracking violence

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