Christian Movie Interviews, News and Reviews

"King Arthur" Serves Up a Politically Correct Retelling

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • Updated Jul 31, 2007
"King Arthur" Serves Up a Politically Correct Retelling

Release Date:  July 7, 2004
Rating:  PG-13 (for intense battle sequences, a scene of sensuality and some language)
Genre:  Action/Adventure/Drama
Run Time:  137 minutes
Director:  Antoine Fuqua
Actors: Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffud, Mad Mikkelson, Kiera Knightley, Joel Edgerton, Hugh Dancey
Director Antoine Fuqua (“Tears of the Sun,” “Training Day”) serves up a thoroughly postmodern “King Arthur” that shuns the beloved legend of Camelot for a more politically correct retelling of the ancient myth.

Lucius Artorius Castus (Clive Owen) is a righteous and courageous Roman commander responsible for protecting the Roman-occupied lands of Britain in 452 A.D. His faithful knights are Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Bors (Ray Winstone), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson), all Samaritans who are serving their final days of servitude to the Roman army, in exchange for peace with their people.

After 15 years of fighting, the men are ready to go home. But Bishop Germanius (Ivano Marescotti) decides to send the knights on a final suicide mission. Before Germanius will grant the men their freedom, they must rescue his godson, who will otherwise be slaughtered by the advancing Saxon army, a ruthless killing machine. To succeed, however, they may be forced to ally with their enemy, the native Woads, whose mysterious leader is named Merlin (Stephen Dillane).

When most people think of Arthur, they think of Camelot. But that version of the story is but one of many, and it evolved during centuries of literature. In fact, the real Arthur may not even have been named Arthur at all. History tells us only that a brave Celtic chieftain who lived during the sixth century held off the fearful Saxons, saving his people. Since the 10th century, poets and writers have told the story, each shaping it around the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.

During the 12th century, William of Malmesbury made Arthur a national figure in his “Chronicles of the Kings of England.” The poetry of Wace gave us the Round Table and Arthur’s tragic death. French poet Chrétien de Troyes crafted the story into narrative form. He was also the first to romanticize the exploits of individual knights, including the well-known “Lancelot,” which chronicled his adulterous love for Queen Guinevere. Other tales include “The Brut,” the first of the legends told in English, and many German retellings. The best-known, however, remain Sir Thomas Malory’s English classic, “Le Morte d’Arthur” (1485) and especially, “Idylls of the King” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, which placed responsibility for the failure of the Round Table – and the quest for the holy grail – on the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere.

Fuqua and writer David Franzon (“Gladiator”) bypass the ancient myths and create a new one fashioned after the spirit of our times – postmodernity – where do-it-yourself faith and feminism are the hallmarks. A disappointment on many levels, “King Arthur” consists of mostly fighting, all of it vicious and violent (though apparently not enough to warrant an R rating). Fuqua also offers a grrrrl twist, with Guinevere (Kiera Knightly) portrayed as a Woad who dons paint and a skimpy warrior bikini to fight foes alongside the knights. She even says to Lancelot, “Don’t worry. I won’t let them rape you” – the one humorous line in the film.

Any romance that may have been was replaced with a rather abrupt (though no less annoying) sex scene. And Lancelot, who is interested in Guinevere, is content to sneak a peak at her bathing, David-and-Bathsheba style. Although the knights are infused with certain individual traits, the film’s characterization, like its plot, is slender. The best of the lot is Owen, who is highly credible as Arthur, and Stellen Skarsgård, as the Saxon’s merciless leader aka Willie Nelson.

The most objectionable part of the film is its depiction of Christianity. Without a doubt, the church had already become corrupt by the fifth century and had plenty of villainous leaders. But Fuqua takes this to an extreme. All of the Christian monks and bishops are portrayed as ineffectual, self-serving and evil; even the barbarians are less barbaric than the Christians. The only upright believer, Arthur, keeps his faith to himself and allows his men, pagans every one, to mock Christians, his faith and even his God – without a word of defense. Though Arthur does pray for strength and bargains with God, trying to persuade God to take his life and spare his men, Arthur is a devout follower of Pelagius.

This is certainly a realistic historical element, for Pelagius had many followers. But his teachings, which were grounded in Stoicism, denied the existence of original sin (Pelagius taught that Adam had merely set a bad example) and grace (he believed that any redemption through Jesus Christ came by instruction and example, nothing more). This teaching pitted him against church father Augustine, but was eventually deemed so heretical that Pelagius was excommunicated. His teachings, which continue to proliferate in philosophy and other religions, are called “the Pelagian heresies.” In other terms, Pelagius was a liberal – only back then, liberals got kicked out of the church.

That Arthur is portrayed as a Pelagian, therefore, only underscores the film’s anti-Christian slant. Oh, and did I mention that Arthur also weds the pagan Guinivere?  Like I said, postmodern.

The cinematography is dominated by deep blues and grays, with nothing outstanding, and the editing at times appears choppy. Overall, this “untold true story that inspired the legend” is not only uninspiring, but it adds little to the body of work that comprises the Arthurian legends. For something far better, see the 1981 “Excalibur,” which is based on Malory’s version of the story.


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