“King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, and sovreign of all England!”

Everyone knows the story of King Arthur, but what you may not know is that under all the layers of legend, there lurks a pearl of historical fact. In the 400s AD, after the Romans deserted Britain and the Saxon invasions were beginning, there is evidence that one British war leader, possibly of Roman ancestry or with Roman military training, united the various Celtic tribes and Roman leftovers and succeeded in driving back the Saxons for a few decades. The theory is that this man became the Arthur of legend. That is the story that the new movie King Arthur tries to tell.

I had a lot of fears about this movie. I wasn’t confident in the director, I thought that historical accuracy would be tossed aside. But I was wrong. King Arthur succeeds, if not magnificently, then at least quite well at what it set out to do. Yes, there were some errors. ( Example, they still had a Roman military presence in Britain in 467 even though they pulled out in 440. ) But not enough to make the film unwatchable. The filmmakers did do some homework, and there’s plenty of evidence of that. The armor and weapons, real historical characters and issues thrown into the mix, and the overall look of the movie lend King Arthur a great sense of authenticity.

The cast is uniformly wonderful, with the slight exception of Keira Knightley who was veering close to Carrie-Fisher-as-Princess-Leia territory with her faux haughtiness. The characters were all well-rendered in the brief time they had, and were a likeable bunch, as the Knights of the Round Table should be. Clive Owen was a great choice to play Arthur. I liked that the movie didn’t treat him as some infallible shining superman, but just as a decent man trying to do his best in a dismal time. A prettier, more ‘known’ actor probably wouldn’t have been able to hold onto that as well as Owen did. Also, Stellan Starsgaard as Cerdic the chief Saxon deserves to be singled out because He Just Flippin’ Ruled.

The only thing I didn’t like about King Arthur was the plot/story structure. The screenplay felt like somebody’s film-school homework; the assignment being to manufacture as much drama and conflict as possible out of the material to make it more “suitable for the movies.” Yeah, like they did with the Lord of the Rings script, and y’all know how well THAT went over with me. The historical Arthur story doesn’t need extra drama; there’s plenty just as it is. Fortunately, the Arthur myth is flexible; it can and has been adapted a thousand different ways but the story is just so good and strong at its heart that it takes real effort to make it bad. The creaky plot may have kept King Arthur from being a great film, but it did not make it a bad film.

I admit, I am a total sucker for the Arthurian legend. I’ve read so many history books, countless novelizations both good and cringe-worthy, seen umpteen movie versions, etc. So my bias may be showing — I really wanted to see this version of Arthur on the screen, and I was so pleased to see it that maybe my judgement was clouded. But I have to give King Arthur an A for effort, maybe a C+ for execution, which balances out to a nice, solid, enjoyable film. I really hope for an extended DVD edition. Check it out, you won’t regret it.

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