the Thinking Chicks Guide to Movies

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Excalibur (1981)

Reviewed on 2008 November 6

There are times when you just can’t think of the perfect word for something, so I have to thank my friend Jason for giving me the perfect word for this medieval soap opera of a movie: gaudy. This is a big, noisy, gaudy, shiny, completely entertaining telling of the King Arthur myth. The acting is a little off in parts, but after the multiple coatings of glitter lacquered on by director John Boorman, that sort of fades into the background.

In this telling, the whole thing starts when Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) falls for another man’s queen, the lovely Igrayne (Boorman’s daughter Katrine, and no, I’m not touching that with a Freud stick). After seeing her “Wenches Gone Wild” routine during a banquet, he pleads with Merlin (Nicol Williamson) for one night with her. Merlin isn’t thrilled to be used as cupid but he gives in. Igrayne gives birth to Arthur.

Arthur (Nigel Terry) is initially reluctant to be king, even after drawing the sword from the stone, but he soon warms up to it, so long as he can lean on Merlin for advice. He assembles the Round Table and marries the lovely Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi). The idyllic kingdom can’t stay peaceful forever though. Arthur is soon troubled in ways he couldn’t anticipate.

I noted several complaints about the acting, and frankly, I never had a problem with it. Most of the wooden quality (what there was of it) either added to the camp value or didn’t make a difference one way or the other, since this was a fairy tale. Watching Williamson’s loopy portrayal of Merlin makes my day, and the best parts are when he’s acting alongside Helen Mirren’s Morgana. The other strong point is the costuming — the movie just looks good, and the costumes and jewelry on the women was a large part of that. During the banquet scenes I got a kick out of the fact that Mirren looked like one of the bad girls from high school; you half expected her to sneak behind the castle for a cigarette and it added another layer to the whole mythos. The use of “O Fortuna” was also perfect.

Three chocolate morsels.


morsel morsel morsel

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