Director: Guy Ritchie; stars Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, David Beckham, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Neil Maskell, Annabelle Wallis. Cert. 12A, 126 mins.
Guy Richie’s take on the Arthurian legend is as far removed from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone as you can get. If anticipating a medieval romp through the lush green fields of England, with serf-like Arthur plucking Excalibur from the stone, forget it. Richie’s Arthur is a hard-boiled pimp, living literally off the back of the whores he protects as well as creaming off the profits from illicit business deals. In doing so young Arthur, unaware of his true heritage, has built a small fortune and gathered around him a group of loyal retainers.
It is only when Arthur reaches maturity that Excalibur, embedded in the rock, emerges from its watery tomb. King Vortigern is told that the sword has appeared so that the true king can be identified. In his ruthless bid to retain power, and unmask the pretender to his throne, he orders all the young men of the land be tasked with attempting to remove the sword. Eventually Arthur comes forward and the sword yields. Imprisoned and under sentence of death Arthur has to come to terms with his birthright and forge his destiny. Only Vortigern stands in his way.
What follows is an enjoyable romp around a mystical Londinium during which Arthur battles the King’s troops and mythical monsters. Lets face it, the legend of King Arthur is a myth and therefore full of potential for a director and scriptwriters to stretch their powers of imagination. Richie’s characters are more East-End wide boys than Arthurian knights. It’s all very much Lock Stock meets Camelot which gives this movie the edge over other adaptations, though that’s not to say it is better than John Boorman’s far superior Excalibur. / Beckham not bad / Charlie drives narrative forward etc
Charismatic Charlie Hunnam as Arthur drives the narrative forward. Hunnam has carved a fine career since appearing as young, optimistic teenager Nathan Maloney in the groundbreaking Channel 4 series Queer as Folk. Hunnam moved swiftly into feature films, notably costume drama Nicholas Nickleby, and for a while seemed typecast as a naive, charmingly handsome youth appearing in three episodes of the US series Young Americans and alongside Jude Law in Cold Mountain. All the while Hunnam was honing his acting skills, and physique, that landed him the lead as Jax Teller in the US TV series Sons of Anarchy. This raw, grainy drama focused on a lawless motorcycle gang with Hunnam displaying ruthless cunning and show his talent for playing gritty, violent characters with real depth. Hunnam has no problem in allowing his softer, more feminine side to appear, which he does as Arthur, flitting effortlessly between the more ruthless avenger and caring mentor. From Nathan Maloney to King Arthur, the boy has done good.
This is a bit like a frat-pack reunion as Hunnam stars alongside Jude Law who he appeared with in Cold Mountain and Aiden Gillen, his co-star in Queer as Folk. I was surprised that Craig Kelly, who played Vince in QAF, was not involved in the movie, think of the promotion potential with Nathan, Vince and Stuart geared up, ready for battle with the tag-line ‘The Boys are Back!’ And while I’m at it, why oh why call Aiden Gillen’s character ‘Bill’? Surely he should have been call Stuart Allen Jones so that on his first meeting with Arthur, Hunnam was able to say ‘Stuart Allen Jones, fancy seeing you here?’ (For those not in the know this is a reference to Queer as Folk!)
Fresh from his more spiritual role as The Young Pope, the excellent Jude Law is merciless and ruthless as King Vortigern around whom director Richie has assembled a vast and skilled cast and crew. I’m not sure if this is David Beckham’s first film role but disagree with all the criticism the former footballer has received. Beck’s swaggers and delivers his line with ease, so much so I wanted to see more of him as his cameo was far too short. Maybe goldenballs is now considering a future in movies!
All in all, Richie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an enjoyable and entertaining romp with plenty of eye candy. If I have one request for the sequel it’s that Charlie takes his shirt off more!