Sunday 28 May 2023


Wyrd Britain reviews 'Excalibur' by John Boorman starring Helen Mirren, Nicol Wiliamson, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson.
The early 1980s saw a veritable host of fantasy movies arrive on cinema screens - inspired no doubt by the 'magic' sword waggling of the first two Star Wars movies - such as 'Hawk the Slayer', 'Dragonslayer', 'Clash of the Titans', 'The Beastmaster', 'Conan the Barbarian', 'Krull', 'The Dark Crystal' and of course John Boorman's epic retelling of the story of Arthur and the magic sword that waggles above all other waggly magic swords, 'Excalibur'.

Forever doomed to be the second best retelling of the Arthurian legend - "You can't expect to wield supreme power just 'cause some watery tart threw a sword at you"- Boorman's version is still a bold if slightly overlong, stark if often a tad indistinct, violent and misogynistic reinvention that discards the epic chivalry of Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur and in it's stead presents a version of the legend that literally glows with mythic resonance whilst never shying way from the blood and mud that would characterise such a time - "Dennis! There’s some lovely filth down here!" (I'll stop quoting 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' now, I promise).

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Excalibur' by John Boorman starring Helen Mirren, Nicol Wiliamson, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson.
To tell his story Boorman assembled cast of then little known but now budget busting actors including Helen Mirren as (Morgana Le Fay), Patrick Stewart as King Leodegrance, Liam Neeson as Gawain and Gabriel Byrne as King Uther Pendragon but it's Nicol Williamson as Merlin who dominates every scene he's in and is sorely missed from those he isn't.  This movie was Boorman's passion project following a decade of career highs, lows and 'Zardoz' and when he finally got the go ahead he threw everything he could at the screen telling a story that encompasses the entirety of Arthur's life which perhaps was not necessarily the best idea but restraint is in no way a characteristic of this film and as an auteur piece it is perfectly realised whilst as a love letter to the pervasive power of the Arthurian legend it is, almost, unsurpassed.

"Look upon this moment. Savor it! Rejoice with great gladness! Great gladness! Remember it always, for you are joined by it. You are One, under the stars. Remember it well, then... this night, this great victory. So that in the years ahead, you can say, "I was there that night, with Arthur, the King!" For it is the doom of men that they forget."


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