Film review by Jason Day of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, starring Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law and Eric Bana. Directed by Guy Ritchie.
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After the murder of his parents King Uther (Eric Bana) and Igraine (Poppy Delevigne) by his wicked uncle Voritgern (Jude Law), young Prince Arthur is spirited away for his own protection to Londinium. Raised amongst the relative safety of an adoring group of prostitutes at a brothel, he grows up to become a streetwise young man (Charlie Hunnam). When Uther’s long lost, mythically powerful sword Excalibur is revealed, the prophesy that England’s true heir to the throne will return shocks Vortigern. When Arthur reclaims the sword, the two must face each other in battle.
Review, by Jason Day
Trust writer/director Guy Ritchie to chuck a grenade into the middle of the Arthurian tales of legend watch the bits, bodies and pieces explode all around, then pick everything up and reassemble them with a modern twist.
His cool, action and stunt packed takes on the Sherlock Holmes mythology may not have been to everyone’s taste, but a fresh pair of eyes on old hat stuff at least produces interesting results.
He duly continues that rollicking, knock-about macho approach here, a motion picture about a King Arthur you would be more likely to meet ordering a round in at an East End pub than giving orders in a castle.
Sexing up the bare bones of the legend with Game of Thrones political intriguing, monsters and relaxed attitude to prostitution and familicide, Ritchie goes the whole hog and rebirths Arthur as a fighting, cockney street thug and pimp who slowly adjusts to a serious shift in social class when the crown of England is placed upon him.
Even GoT‘s Aidan Gillen has a supporting role here as ‘Goosefat’, one of Uther’s old knights. Gay audiences of a certain age will remember that 20 years ago he and Hunnam’s Queer as Folk characters shared a more intimate relationship.
Ritchie’s preoccupation with using working class, cockney men as heroes pitted against the machinations of the ruling classes is intriguing. He himself is of decidedly middle-class stock and was born in Hatfield, which piques the amateur psychiatrist in me. Does he hanker to have been born within ear-shot of Bow Bells? Does he see himself as a swaggering, whoring street fighter? Is he ashamed of his own origins?
But enough of my psycho babble, what is abundantly clear is his considerable skill as a purveyor of swift, efficient, glibly amusing and exciting blockbusters. Long gone are the tight budget days of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells (1998) this man now helms movies with serious money behind them, a whopping $175m for this movie alone.
Hollywood’s confidence in the boy wonder from leafy Herts will be buoyed following the massive success of the Sherlock Holmes movies, so fingers crossed for King Arthur does better at the worldwide cinema than it did in the states. (The possible reasons for its failure across the pond are discussed in this Guardian article).
Hunnam, who has touted his wares at Hollywood casting sessions for more than a decade now with varying success as a support player until the biker TV series Sons of Anarchy signed him up. King Arthur may or may not lead to other big screen roles, but he needs to work on his cockney accent if any lead him toward East End streets again.
Better value is Ritchie’s Holmes star Jude Law as the autocratic, paranoid, power hungry King, reclining sulkily in his throne and sieg heiling his troops and populace. He gives an itchy, dirty, sexy piece of pantomime.
The ‘England Rules – So Watch Out!’ aspects of the story have an obvious resonance now with the UK’s exit from the EU ever approaching, so its tempting to see it underlined during a meeting Arthur has with a group of Vikings who had previously plundered the country. “Why have enemies, when you can have friends?” he politely tells them, before adding a stinger worthy of any caveat within EU protocols “You are dealing with England”.
So, Arthur to lead Brexit negotiations, then? Jean Claude-Junker: bring it.
Cast & credits
Director: Guy Ritchie. 126mins. Safe House Pictures/Village Roadshow/Warner Bros./Weed Road Pictures/Wigram Productions. (12)
Producers: Steve Clark-Hall, Akiva Goldsman, Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Tory Tunnell, Lionel Wigram.
Writers: Joby Harold, Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram.
Camera: John Mathieson.
Music: Daniel Pemberton.
Sets: Gemma Jackson.
Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Annabelle Wallis.