Let’s face it. If you were looking for a modern day treatment of the story of King Arthur – or at least the most commonly held version of it, taking into consideration the fact that scholars can’t even agree if he existed at all or was entirely imaginary – then King Arthur: Legend of the Sword isn’t the place to be searching.
Having said that, and if you go into the movie with a minimum of preconceived notions about the story of Arthur and his sword, then you are likely to enjoy it for being the quintessentially Guy Ritchie movie that it is: fast cuts, snappy dialogue torn from the streets of London, and the David Beckham cameo.
The movie retained many of the elements of classical Arthurian tales: Excalibur, the Lady of Lake, the Round Table, and so on. Notably absent – or given such marginal roles you could easily miss them – were Merlin, Morgana and Mordred, and, of course, the magically enabled illegitimate conception of Arthur himself.
It provides a solid enough premise, ensuring good footing for the story-telling. Again, once you get past your Thomas Mallory, you’ll enjoy how this movie was paced and, in general, acted. Hunnam’s Arthur is a charismatic rogue, playing up the character’s backstory perfectly. Law, as Vortigern, is appropriately menacing but is given so little to do that I couldn’t help but feel bad for Law’s craftwork. Just like Astrid Bergès-Frisbey’s Mage – easily the most powerful member of Arthur’s coterie, but strangely also the one least fleshed out – who successfully came across as being a person with one foot in the real world and the other firmly planted in the invisible labyrinths of sorcery.
The movie follows the life of Arthur (Charlie Hunnam), the princeling son of Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana)and Igraine (Poppy Delevingne), who is separated from his parents as they are being betrayed by his power-grabbing uncle Vortigern (Jude Law). Like Moses, Arthur floats off to safety in a boat, eventually wending its way to Londinium. The boy is found by three prostitutes and is raised by them in the brothel where they live. Arthur, blissfully unaware of his heritage, grows up exceedingly street smart and with a profound impulse to protect the weak.
He might have continued living this way, becoming a petty boss among the rabble of Londinium, had it not been for the sudden and inexplicable retreat of the sea away from the coast, revealing a sword, stuck in a stone. Recognising the sword as the one belonging to his betrayed brother, Vortigern suddenly feels his reign threatened and begins searching for the boy, born King, whose throne he had murderously usurped.
If that sounds like formula, well, it is. And with this movie aiming to introduce the mythos of Arthur to the new “bro” generation, that might not be an entirely terrible thing.