Wednesday, 24 May 2017
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Give or take a sub-Roman warlord who may or may not have even existed, the tales of King Arthur have a beginning in Welsh folklore. Early stories told of an unbeatable adventurer who lead excursions to steal treasure from an otherworldly paradise that predated and informed the Christian idea of Heaven. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, Arthur's kingdom stretched all the way into Gaul, bringing the King into direct conflict with the Roman Empire, the headspring of Britain's inferiority complex.
As the centuries rolled on, Arthur would become a rallying point for Greater British and French myth, tying dozens of disparate stories together under the banner of a round table where all men are treated equally. The point being that King Arthur is forever malleable, an undying character in permanent flux, flowing freely from one conceptual conflict to the next. For their pass, designed to appeal to a modern audience's taste for team-ups and their feature length origins, Guy Ritchie, with fellow screenwriters Lionel Wigram and Joby Harold, plunder the monomyth then flavour with the exploits of Middle-Eastern prophets.
Moses' drifting basket is married to the all-consuming humanity of a Christ who did not discriminate by class or social standing. In King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Charlie Hunnam's Arthur has lost the wealth and standing of his hereditary royalty thanks to a treacherous Uncle who can transform into Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer. Arthur has been raised in a brothel, enduring poverty and abuse to become a kind of Dark Ages Fagin, running umpteen scams and rackets that criss-cross London's docks, usually involving cheeky, pick-pocketing urchins. He's a cosy, East End criminal who stands up to bullies and loves his adopted Mum.
It's clear that even operating from this lowly station Arthur has thrived. Not only has he made vast monetary gains, he's also gathered a small crew of capable followers. He's a cheeky fucker but also, clearly, a leader. Just in case all that sounds terribly dry, Richie remembers to mix in his patented market stall argy-bargy, bending the distended structure of modern blockbusters to incorporate the director's rambling, digressive storytelling tics. As with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Ritchie insists that the film unfold from the mouths of his heroes, putting them in control of the story and how we are told it. It's an interesting delivery system, at its best representing a verbal barrage that can overwhelm and overcome the weak-minded. At its worst, it erodes the shape of the film, presenting computer generated action sequences in the lacerated language of car commercials.