HOME |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
Newest Reviews
Lowlife
Fashionista
Elizabeth Harvest
Moulin Rouge!
Free Solo
Mifune: The Last Samurai
Stan and Ollie
Girl in the Spider's Web, The
Up from the Depths
Guardians of the Tomb
November Man, The
Overlord
Sebastiane
Lifechanger
Circle of Two
Hell Fest
Oklahoma!
Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The
Vigilante Force
Haunting of Sharon Tate, The
Paradox
Peppermint
Sharkwater Extinction
Isn't It Romantic
Sink the Bismarck!
Possum
Submergence
Slaughterhouse Rulez
Atalante, L'
Halloween
   
 
Newest Articles
Killer Apps: The Rise of the Evil 60s Supercomputers
How 1970s Can You Get? Cliff Richard in Take Me High vs Never Too Young to Rock
A Perfect Engine, An Eating Machine: The Jaws Series
Phwoar, Missus! Sexytime for Hollywood
He-Maniacs: Ridiculous 80s Action
All's Welles That Ends Welles: Orson Welles Great Mysteries Volume 1 on DVD
Shut It! The Sweeney Double Bill: Two Blu-rays from Network
Network Sitcom Movie Double Bill: Till Death Us Do Part and Man About the House on Blu-ray
No, THIS Must Be the Place: True Stories on Blu-ray
Alf Garnett's Life After Death: Till Death... and The Thoughts of Chairman Alf on DVD
Balance of Power: Harold Pinter at the BBC on DVD
Strange Days 2: The Second Science Fiction Weirdness Wave
Strange Days: When Science Fiction Went Weird
Ha Ha Haaargh: Interview With Camp Death III in 2D! Director Matt Frame
Phone Freak: When a Stranger Calls on Blu-ray
   
 
  Excalibur Arthurian anticsBuy this film here.
Year: 1981
Director: John Boorman
Stars: Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, Katrine Boorman, Charley Boorman, Patrick Stewart, Clive Swift, Robert Addie, Corin Redgrave, Niall O’Brien
Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Adventure
Rating:  6 (from 5 votes)
Review: “The film has to do with mythical truth, not historical truth”, is how John Boorman summed up Excalibur, his bold, dreamlike interpretation of the Arthurian myth. A film that achieves the remarkable feat of seeming gritty and fanciful at the same time. In the dark ages, the magician Merlin (a superb Nicol Williamson) summons the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, which enables Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) to become king. Unfortunately, Uther grows obsessed with the beautiful Igrayne (Katrine Boorman), wife of his ally Leondegrance (Patrick Stewart) and, with a reluctant Merlin’s aid, he infiltrates their castle and makes love to her. Igrayne bears Uther’s son, but the king is slain and embeds Excalibur inside a stone. Years later, Merlin finds Arthur (Nigel Terry), raised as a humble farmhand, and guides him to draw Excalibur, assemble a legendary company of knights, and rule from Camelot as king of England. Arthur marries fair Guinevere (Cherie Lunghi), who begins an affair with the king’s finest knight, Sir Lancelot (Nicholas Clay). Meanwhile, Arthur’s vengeful half-sister, Morgana (Helen Mirren) tricks Merlin into imprisonment and bewitches the king into committing incest. In time, their son, Mordred (played by Charley Boorman as a boy; Robert Addie as an adult) threatens the kingdom. The only hope of salvation lies with the Holy Grail.

Judging from the many snide reviews found on the internet, Excalibur no longer enjoys the exalted reputation it once had. Its mist-drenched, mystical musings seem to rub contemporary audiences up the wrong way, with many yearning for a more “realistic”, “historically accurate” approach. One confesses to finding that a little sad. An Arthurian romance stripped of all magic seems meaningless somehow and King Arthur (2004) demonstrated the pitfalls of that approach. In fact, Boorman does a remarkable job weaving the various historical, literary, and pseudo-religious aspects of the Arthurian legend into an allegory of the cycle of birth, life and decay. Drawing primarily upon Mallory’s Le morte d’Arthur, he and co-screenwriter Rospo Pallenberg incorporate several other Arthurian stories, outside elements including Tristan & Isolde and Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and several intriguing pagan references (Merlin’s “charm of making”, the concept of the world as a living being: a sleeping dragon sometimes summoned from its slumber).

As many critics have remarked, Excalibur’s most haunting and brilliantly realised sequence - the quest for the Holy Grail - revolves around a minor character we barely get to know (Disappointingly, Boorman omits Sir Galahad). This deliberately vague, impressionistic style of storytelling is an acquired taste and hard to pull off, yet it works. Boorman’s Zardoz (1974) and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) were similarly audacious, but hampered by an inability to deliver the goods as sci-fi adventure or scary horror. As a result, his wondrously crafted, philosophical subtext came across as airy-fairy nonsense. Here, Boorman’s imagination soars, and although the narrative can be a bewildering experience first time around, it remains compelling. The bloody battle scenes pack a visceral kick and surely influenced Braveheart (1995), Gladiator (2000), and the like, while the sexual aspects of the legend are by turns lyrically sensual, brazenly carnal and deliberately funny. I.e. a fully armour clad Gabriel Byrne romping with lovely Katrine Boorman. John Boorman also stands alongside Dario Argento as a director perfectly happy to show his daughter naked. Hey, if it doesn’t bother them, it shouldn’t bother us.

Aside from Igrayne and the young Mordred, the roles of young Arthur and the Lady of the Lake are also played by Boorman children, adding to the familial air of the project. He lovingly photographs his adopted land of Ireland, with locations like Wicklow, County Kerry, Cahir Castle in Tipperary lending an intoxicating atmosphere enhanced by vibrant coloured lights and frequent showers of glitter. Nigel Terry was thirty-five at the time, but admirably conveys Arthur’s journey from boy hero to jaded monarch. Cherie Lunghi is saddled with a weakly written Guinevere, but Nicholas Clay is among the strongest Lancelots (kudos to them both for filming their love scene outdoors in the freezing cold), and Helen Mirren is an eerie, intense Morgana.

But the film belongs to Nicol Williamson’s surreal turn as a wise, aloof and wacky Merlin. You never know what he’s going to say or do next, as Williamson takes bold risks and remains compelling. Much like Excalibur itself, which ranks alongside Camelot (1967) and Merlin (1999) as an intelligent, profound discourse on the nature of myth making.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

This review has been viewed 5891 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

 

John Boorman  (1933 - )

British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.

From then on the quality was variable: the obscure Leo the Last, the harrowing megahit Deliverance, the ridiculous Zardoz, the reviled Exorcist II, Arthurian adaptation Excalibur, The Emerald Forest, Where the Heart Is, The General and underrated spy drama The Tailor of Panama. Was once involved with an aborted attempt to film The Lord of the Rings.

 
Review Comments (5)


Untitled 1

Login
  Username:
 
  Password:
 
   
 
Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.
   

Latest Poll
Which star do you think makes the best coffee?
Emma Stone
Anna Kendrick
Michelle Rodriguez
Sir Patrick Stewart
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Andrew Pragasam
Graeme Clark
Enoch Sneed
George White
Stately Wayne Manor
Paul Smith
Darren Jones
Aseels Almasi
   

 

Last Updated: