[My guest reviewer today is Virginia Chandler, a friend and fellow writer. She has released her most recent book, The Devil's Treasure. Before Virginia wrote about the pirate world, she spent many years reading, studying, watching and enjoying Arthurian legends. If anyone should be reviewing Excalibur, it is her.]
John Boorman’s 1981 film, Excalibur, was an enormous and ambitious undertaking wherein Boorman attempted to adapt Thomas Malory’s massive compilation of Arthurian tales, La Morte D’Arthur, into a movie “for the masses”.
I saw the film on the “big” screen back in 1981, and like most, was mesmerized. In fact, Alex Thomson was nominated for an Academy Award for the cinematography, and Bob Ringwood was nominated for a BAFTA for his costume designs. It is indeed a gorgeous, sexy film with provocative costumes.
It’s not perfect, of course, so let’s just get the “ack” stuff out of the way:
- Yes, the hair of just about every character is out of control and wacky: Guinivere almost has a ‘fro, Merlin is wearing a silver something that substitutes for a groovy, wizard hairdo, and with the exception of Lancelot and Morgana, everyone else’s hair just seems unkempt.
- Igraine’s “seduction” dance scene is just a wee bit on the weird side. Okay, more than a little weird, but as long as Uther finds it sexy, it’s all good.
- Igraine and Uther’s initial sexual encounter is both brutal and somehow quite sexy. Her lack of clothing contrasted with his full armor plus little Morgana looking on is unsettling.
- The laugh of boy Mordred is annoying and makes you want to slap his mouth shut. Every time you see it.
Despite the “ack” elements, there is PLENTY to savor, even for an old Arthurian Purist like myself. Nicol Williamson’s Merlin is endearing, funny, and tragic. His feathered cloak is totally awesome as is his *ahem* somewhat ridiculous silver headgear, and when he gets his staff to belch smoke along with his glowing, red eyes, it just makes one want to squeal with delight. Seriously.
Nigel Terry’s Arthur is also quite funny, sweetly awkward, and yet, so very sincere in his doomed efforts to be everything that Merlin wishes him to be. He tries, dangit, and he tries hard. He learns most of his lessons the VERY hard way and, in the end, he can only be redeemed in the tragic embrace of death with his one and only son (born from incest and trickery, no less). The poor fellow really never had a chance.
Paul Geoffrey’s Percival is bright and shining as the Grail Winner, while Nicholas Clay’s Lancelot is tortured, mad, and (like Arthur) doomed. Doomed. Doomed. It’s fun to see a very young Liam Neeson play Gawain, even if Gawain is portrayed as easily influenced and an ass. Gabriel Byrne (also very young) is an Uther that you just love to hate, (I still enjoy watching him get shanked), and when he selfishly slams Excalibur into the infamous Stone, (like the young Mordred), you just want to slap him.
Then…there’s the magic that we, the Pagan hordes of dragon fanatics and Arthurian geeks, just LOVE! Who doesn’t know the “Charm of Making”? Who doesn’t LOVE to say it? Who doesn’t get chills when your best buddy Pagans join in?
orth’ bháis’s bethad,
do chél dénmha
If you didn’t know, translated it means:
charm of death and life,
thy omen of making
But, you knew that, didn’t you, you lovable Pagan geeks! Of course you did!
And, sure, a lot of neo Pagans prefer Arthur’s sister as Morgaine from Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, (and admittedly, Julianna Marguile’s film portrayal of Morgaine is pretty sweet), but a sexy, SEXY Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur is to be savored. Mirren’s Morgana is delicious to watch, and when she speaks, when she breathes, all eyes are drawn to her. She might be a “bad” girl in Boorman’s film, and she was pretty gnarly in the Malory compilation, but admit it, when you watch her in action, you TOO want to know the Charm of Making, and you can hardly blame her for being pissed off at Merlin and later, Arthur, for all of the muck that was thrown her way in those early years of her life. She gets her revenge, too, and since you know it’s coming, you may as well enjoy the brilliance of it. Boorman doesn’t dwell too much on Merlin’s fabled desire for Morgana, but it’s obvious that Merin is intrigued by her and on some deep, dark level, he admires her raw, Witchy talents. Why else would he finally reveal the Charm to her? Besides, Merlin will get her back with a clever twist on the Charm before it’s all said and done, but in the meantime, Morgana will rule as the “Queen of Bad”: She will orchestrate the downfall of “noble” Lancelot and send him off to the forest as a mad “monk”; she will seduce her half brother; she will give birth (in a nifty lightning shrouded birthing chamber) to a “god”; she will destroy the Round Table with a wicked mocking of the Grail Quest; and, she will raise her nephew-son to be a rather pretty and quite formidable warrior who wears some really groovy armor.
On top of all of THAT, Helen Mirren is just sexy. She was sexy in 1981 (and you gotta love the “dress” that she wears when she seduces Arthur), and she’s twice as sexy now. She is ageless. She’s sexy. Did I mention that she’s sexy?
If you haven’t seen Excalibur, you really have missed out on one of the most poignant adaptations of the Grail Quest. Get it on Blu Ray and enjoy 140 minutes of Arthurian legend set amidst Boorman’s elegant and striking Arthurian England. If you have seen it, go watch it again. You know that you want to see Morgana do her wicked deeds, and I didn’t even mention Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance. Ignore the bad hair and strange dancing, and once Helen Mirren appears on screen and “bad” Morgana initiates her plot of revenge, you will be, I am quite sure, intrigued and entertained.
(Read the Interview with Virginia at The Wild Hunt)
Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer: John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch
Day #22: The Mists of Avalon (Guest Reviewer: Crystal Blanton)
Day #23: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty