King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

 

starstar

 


Guy Ritchie’s take on the Arthurian legend is, alas, a bewildering and silly affair, resembling a 

nightmarish video game.

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Elephantine storytelling

 

The Arthurian legends, much like Shakespeare, are ripe for reinvention. Thus we’ve had the Disney cartoon (The Sword in the Stone), the Lerner-Loewe musical (Camelot), Robert Bresson’s pared-down Lancelot du Lac and the outrageously farcical Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And now we’ve got geezers in armour. Guy Ritchie, in spite of his thematic reach, is not the most versatile of directors. The style he established with his first film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, remains the same, except more so. And so we have the wisecracking wide boys, the myriad flashbacks, the stop-start action sequences, the freeze frames, the slow motion and the footballer-as-actor (Vinnie Jones then, David Beckham now). However, Ritchie has amped up the volume, so the editing looks like it’s been crafted by a garden strimmer. This is not a film for anybody with epilepsy – or anybody susceptible to headaches.

 

The film’s computer-generated artificiality is evidenced from the opening shot: this is a world not so much conjured up from the ancient mists of time as from the contemporary sorcery of digital software. Ritchie’s visual influences are blatant: The Lord of the Rings, mainly. The inaugural battle scene, featuring titanic elephants, has little bearing in reality – or Arthurian myth. It’s an Arthurian video game, replete with nightmarish visions and soldiers falling from vertiginous heights. Arthur himself is just a boy at the start and so the tedious trudge of exposition begins. By the time Arthur has witnessed the death of his father and grows up in a brothel to become the handsome and strapping Charlie Hunnam, one’s head is spinning. And it doesn’t stop there. Arthur has a bone to pick with his uncle (a simmering Jude Law), but is reluctant to deploy the powers of the eponymous weapon, Excalibur.

 

It’s all incredibly convoluted and the complete antithesis of what storytelling should be. One has to catch one’s pleasures where one can, but these are few and far between. Ritchie does conjure up a certain visceral power and with his DP John Mathieson contributes a handful of striking images. One of these is a manifestation of the octopine Syrena, a multi-tentacled oracle complete with nipple-less mermaid attachments, recalling Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid. There’s also a terrific score from Daniel Pemberton, who’s shaping up to be one of the finest film composers of his generation. Ritchie also gives us an excellent witch (or ‘mage’) in the form of Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, a Franco-Spanish actress and former model. And Charlie Hunnam himself provides a muscular presence, although when forced to deliver lines like, “come on lads, chop-chop,” you feel his pain.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen, Jude Law, Eric Bana, Geoff Bell, Tom Wu, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Mikael Persbrandt, Lorraine Bruce, Annabelle Wallis, Katie McGrath, Poppy Delevingne, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Millie Brady, Georgina Chapman, Rob Knighton, David Beckham, Peter Ferdinando, Michael McElhatton, Yannik Baker.

 

Dir Guy Ritchie, Pro Guy Ritchie, Akiva Goldsman, Joby Harold, Tory Tunnell, Steve Clark-Hall and Lionel Wigram, Screenplay Guy Ritchie, Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold, Ph John Mathieson, Pro Des Gemma Jackson, Ed James Herbert, Music Daniel Pemberton, Costumes Annie Symons.

 

Warner Bros. Pictures/Safehouse Pictures/Ritchie/Wigram Productions/Village Roadshow Pictures/Weed Road Pictures-Warner Bros.

126 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 19 May 2017. Cert. 12A.