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King Arthur
IMDB Rating: 6.3/10 from R votes
Release: 07 Jul 2004 /

King Arthur

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Director: Antoine Fuqua,
Stars: , , ,
Synopsis: A demystified take on the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

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Critic Reviews


I did not hate this film. It was fairly entertaining, with well-staged battle scenes and high production values. The acting, though often either overblown or slightly wooden, was passable, and Ioan Gruffydd was actually quite good.

What bothered me is that the text at the opening of King Arthur promised a portrayal of the "historical" Arthur, and then manifestly failed to deliver. For the record, there is no "historical" Arthur. There are scattered references in the works of Gildas and Bede to an Arthur, or an Aurelius Ambrosianus upon whom the legend of Arthur is based. There is a fairly detailed story of a King Arthur in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History, though most of this seems drawn from Welsh and Cornish folktales of the type later collected in the Mabinogion. There is, however, very hard evidence that there ever was a King Arthur, or battles of Baddon Hill and Celidon forest.

There was, however, an invasion and colonization of Britain by the Saxons and other Germanic tribes during the fifth and sixth centuries, following the Roman military withdrawal. And it is pretty clear that the native Celtic and Romano-Celtic population put up one hell of a fight, slowing but not stopping the Saxon invasions. My own opinion is that there is enough smoke to suggest that the Arthur of medieval romance probably had some kind of historical prototype (most legends of this type usually do: a "Dux Bellorum" (war leader) as named in Gildas, possibly this shadowy Aurelius Ambrosianus.

So, I had high hopes for the movie King Arthur. After all, the film had the time period right, and the context looked convincing enough. Unfortunately, rather than using the historical material and context, the filmmakers completely ignored them. There was no consistency to this movie, and anyone with even a passing knowledge of the history of the early middle ages (the so-called dark ages) will be more than irritated by the pretended historicity of the movie. Some examples: 1. The film suggests the late-imperial Roman government and policy was directed by the Church, through the Papacy. This is absolutely false. Although the Empire was staunchly Christian at this time, it was the Emperor and his court -- at Constantinople rather than Rome -- that set and executed policy. Bishops did not order armies around. In fact, the See of Rome at the time was a relatively weak power centre at the time, especially compared to the Bishops of Constantinople and Alexandria.

2. While it is true that the Romans enlisted soldiers and units from border tribes like the Sarmatians, they were never posted at the other end of the empire. This would have made no sense, since the whole point of the foederati was to create a buffer between the empire and the northern and eastern barbarians. The Sarmatian soldiers were typically posted in Sarmatia.

3. Arthur would never have known Pelagius who, though a Briton or Irishman by birth, was in Rome from about AD 405. He was condemned by the Church, but never actually excommunicated or convicted of heresy, and probably died in Rome in AD 420, around the time the "historical" Arthur was born.

4. By the fifth century, the Roman occupied part of Britain had been quite thoroughly Romanized. The population was mostly Romanized Britons, and NOT an ethnically British population under the boot of a few foreign, ethnically Roman aristocrats. While there certainly were non-Romanized Celts like the Wodes about, most of the Britain that Arthur would have been fighting to defend would have been populated by Christian Britons who though of themselves as Romans.

5. Bishop Germanicus, or St. Germain, was not a former Roman general. He was a former Gaulish lawyer.

6. Hadrian's wall was built not to keep the Britonnic Celts and Saxons out of Roman Britain. It was built to keep the Picts and Hiberni -- who were explicitly NOT Briton and in the case of the Picts, probably not even Celts -- out of Britain. It runs/ran from Solway Firth to the River Tyne and thus is waaaaaaaaaaaaay too far north to have had much to do with the "historical" Arthur.

7. While the Church in the fifth century was certainly militant (read St. Augustine for that), the portrayal of churchmen as murderous ascetics who tortured and sacrificed pagans is absolutely ridiculous. In fact, by this time, most of the population south of Hadrian's Wall had been converted to Christianity.

What troubles me is that there is no reason why the filmmakers should have played so fast and loose with history to make this movie. I understand creative license, but the way in which they claim historicity on one hand, and then create a nonsense fabrication on the other – to no end other than the fact that they just seemed to want to do it that way -- makes it very difficult for me to respect King Arthur. I can respect Excalibur; at least no one claimed that it was historical.

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