The Legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table remains one of the most recycled and reinterpreted narratives of all time. From television series such as Merlin, Camelot and Once Upon a Time; to feature films including Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Quest for Camelot and even the upcoming Transformers sequel – there is clearly no shortage of Arthurian inspiration in the entertainment industry. It stands, that to truly make an impact among the ever growing sea of ‘round tables’ and ‘medieval heroes’ spawning from the same source material, a new feature film adaption would require something truly impressive indeed. For Roadshow’s newest blockbuster, it seems that they have found said winning ingredient with Director Guy Ritchie; producing a film that is both refreshingly unconventional and inherently entertaining.
What is so inspired about Ritchie’s interpretation of the ‘hero rises from nothing’ narrative is how vehemently and simultaneously he uses and rejects the tropes of the genre. Yes, we see our hero grow up from the scrawny, bullied orphan to the strong, respected pillar of the community. Yes, we see our hero struggle through an epic quest that seeks to break his body mind and spirit, only to emerge anew. Yes, we see our hero attempt to run away, overwhelmed by the responsibility thrust upon his shoulders only to realise his unnegotiable role in the narrative. However, it is the unorthodox and strikingly non-linear approach that Ritchie takes in chronologing each of these ‘chapters’ that the appeal of his style and creative choices truly emerge. Instead of lasting an entire film, these journeys are condensed into flickered sequences that although take risks in appearing rushed or skipped over, in fact pay off to deliver a film that reeks of innovation and creative confidence.
I will admit that I’ve been left both unconvinced and underwhelmed by Charlie Hunnam in his previous work. However, despite warming to various interpretations of King Arthur in the past, I don’t think there has ever been a casting so uniquely fitting as Hunnam in this film. Sharp witted, intimidating and embodying a level of charm and authority reserved for characters of regal stature, Hunnam’s Arthur is a character that even at his most unforgiving and threatening appears fundamentally fair and morally aware. Leading a supporting cast that mirrors our protagonist’s wit and loyalty, there really is a sense of comradery and heart to the film that is so integral to the story of King Arthur and his ‘Knights of the Round Table’, but is presented in a thoroughly unique and contemporary way. Jude Law, who typically is known for softer portrayals, similarly impresses as a commanding and twisted antagonist that meets every creative and emotional challenge his character faces with class.
Of course, the type of audience a film like King Arthur typically appeals to are expecting one thing above all; action – and fortunately the film continues to satisfy on this front as well. From expertly constructed CGI to hard-hitting and realistically finished stunt work, the visual portfolio the film offers audiences is packed with adrenaline and high production value. What separates King Arthur from movies of a similar genre is that every moment of action is earned from a narrative point of view. The battles, special effects and swarming musical scores build to an emotional climax as much as a visual one. In ensuring these moments are dictated by the development of his characters rather than a visual quota, Ritchie safeguards the film from appearing cheap or lacking substance.
King Arthur – Legend of the Sword is without question one of the most unorthodox and genuinely surprising films I’ve ever encountered. Ritchie’s direction, married with a script that effortlessly balances contemporary and period language – ensures that this film spares very little in terms of originality and entertainment value. Exciting, visually appealing and utterly exhilarating: King Arthur is both enjoyable and narratively secure, and is a rare compromise that will easily appeal to a variety of movie goers with ease.