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Archive for July, 2021

A lot of bad King Arthur movies have been made over the years. Fortunately, Arthur and Merlin: Knights of Camelot (2020) is far from the worst of them, though it’s not one of the good ones either. Overall, I would give the film a C+ because it does a few interesting things, despite the pacing being slow, the picture often dark and dreary, and the story, as usual, not following the tradition.

First off, the film is badly titled. Merlin makes an appearance, but it’s pretty brief and not super-integral to the plot. If he had been left out it, it would have been no great loss. The subtitle is ridiculous since it suggests Arthur and Merlin are Knights of Camelot, but one is a king and the other a wizard. The knights are in the film but it’s not about them either. A better title would have been Arthur and Mordred or Mordred and Guinevere.

The best thing about the film is that it tells the story of Mordred’s attempt to take over the kingdom, including marrying Guinevere. In many Arthurian films, Mordred is the villain, but this is the first one in which he tries to force Guinevere into marriage as happens in traditional versions of the legend. The film supposedly takes place in 463 AD when Arthur goes to Europe to fight the Roman Emperor, leaving Mordred at home in charge of the kingdom. The date is too early as any Arthurian scholar would know. Arthur’s journey to the continent was likely in the 520s or 530s, depending on what date you want to give his death at the Battle of Camlann, but it was definitely after Rome fell and an upstart claimed to be Roman Emperor.

While on the continent, Arthur is pretty pathetic. Honestly, I didn’t follow much of this part of the plot other than that Arthur was self-doubting of his abilities and seemed to be kind of a weenie. I would have missed a lot of what was going on if not for having read the film description on the back cover of the DVD. (I found it for $7.99 at Menards—I wouldn’t pay more for it.) The film moves slowly, and it is very dark—it’s often hard to see which man is which since many look alike and all have beards, and I admit I closed my eyes more than once and nearly napped while watching so I probably missed some plot points.

The strongest part of the film are the portrayals by Mordred and Guinevere. Mordred wants the throne for himself and he tries to force Guinevere into marriage, even telling her that if she will not marry him, he will kill her. We see him making sexual advances to her, stating the kingdom is his and that makes her body his. Sir Lancelot shows up and tries to help but ends up imprisoned and ineffective for most of the film. Nothing special about this Lancelot at all. Kind of a dud.

There are a couple of other female main characters, but honestly, I never figured out quite who they were or what they were doing. I thought one might be the Lady of the Lake, but I think they were Saxons Mordred was in league with. The dialogue is also often quiet, not necessarily hard to hear, but neither is it written so that the watcher can easily follow who is who or what their relationships are.

Time for a spoiler alert: So of course, with a little help from Merlin, Arthur quits being pathetic and decides he’ll be the king his country needs. He returns to Britain and fights Mordred. The filmmakers’ choices here are interesting but not necessarily understandable. A battle ensues fought inside Camelot, in which Lancelot is freed. Arthur battles Mordred and defeats him, but lets him go free, warning him never to show his face again. Mordred scrambles away, leaving us to wonder if he’ll live to fight another day. Was this battle in the castle meant to be the Battle of Camlann, or is it a prelude to the battle to come since Arthur and Mordred are both still alive? Arthur is left back in control of his kingdom, but he sees Lancelot and Guinevere ride off together, meaning he is basically alone. The film has played fast and loose with the chronology of the traditional events that led to the downfall of Camelot, and it’s not clear at all why the filmmakers didn’t have Mordred and/or Arthur die in the end. The result is no going off to Avalon, no hand catching the sword as it is thrown into the lake. Instead, we have a flat ending that leaves more questions than answers and no cathartic moment that the legend usually evokes.

I do give the film credit for trying. As I said, I was intrigued by the depiction of Mordred and Guinevere’s relationship, which I don’t think has been depicted in film before. Guinevere’s marriage to Mordred has always been controversial among scholars, causing debates on whether or not Guinevere was in alliance with Mordred or forced by him into marrying her. (See my previous blog “While Arthur Was Away, Did Mordred with Guinevere Play?”) In this film, it is clear Guinevere is only interested in Lancelot, not Mordred.

The other aspect of the film I enjoyed was the scenery, including the castles. Camelot appears to be on the coast of Britain, which is wrong, but while the lighting in the film made it hard to enjoy the story, it did show how light would flow through large castle windows and reflected the reality of the dinginess of the era.

All in all, I think this film may bear a rewatching so I can better follow the plot and figure out who some of the characters were. I’ll have to watch it when I’m less tired since it nearly put me to sleep. If you really are desperate for a new King Arthur movie to watch that won’t make you completely appalled, you might give Arthur and Merlin: Knights of Camelot a try.

A few other reviews of the film are a little harsher than mine, though I have to admit I agree with them about everything. If you’re still undecided whether to watch, check out:

https://readysteadycut.com/2020/07/13/arthur-merlin-knights-of-camelot-review/

https://www.empireonline.com/movies/reviews/arthur-merlin-knights-of-camelot/

You can view the trailer at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/arthur-merlin-knights-of-camelot

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of The Children of Arthur series, which includes the novels Arthur’s Legacy, Melusine’s Gift, Ogier’s Prayer, Lilith’s Love, and Arthur’s Bosom. He has also written the nonfiction scholarly works King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, plus numerous other books. You can learn more about Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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