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Gawain and the Green Knight (1991)

The two other versions of Gawain and the Green Knight I’ve looked at on this blog both use the original story as a sort of springboard and bounce off it to do their own thing - Stephen Weeks turned it into a swashbuckling romp, David Lowery into the sort of bad dream a Portland hipster might experience after going overboard on the artisan cheeses. This Thames TV version from 1991 stays much closer to the source material, and, despite a lower budget and less starry cast, it’s easily the best. Screenwriter David Rudkin is mostly known nowadays for his famously spooky 1970s TV play Penda’s Fen, but he wrote a lot of other plays and adaptations, many dealing with eerie goings-on in rural settings - the type of thing that gets called ‘folk horror’ nowadays, though that’s not a term I like. Anyway, he clearly knows his stuff, turning in a taut hour-and-a-quarter retelling of Gawain with alliterative dialogue which echoes the original. The main change he makes is to open with Gawain set
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Untitled Arthurian Film

There’s no evidence for an actual, historical King Arthur, but I tend to think the principle of ‘no smoke without fire’ suggests that at some point in the 4th or 5th or 6th Century AD there may have been a Romano-British general or Celtic warlord called Artos or Artorius or something, around whose name all sorts of stories gathered - some new, some simply re-branded - during the centuries that followed. I wonder what he would have thought, if he knew that he would become the principal character in so many Arthurian Films? Fame and renown tended to be quite a big deal with chaps like that, so I hope he’d have been pretty chuffed. I’ve enjoyed writing about the films this autumn. A lot were quite bad, but most of them had something going for them, and some of the TV versions were a lot better than I’d expected. Nothing will ever dislodge Excalibur as my favourite, it may look camp and dated to you but I don’t care, I love every frame. But Perceval le Gallois comes a close second - a

Christmas Stories

Here’s a link to In the Bleak Midwinter , a short story set in the world of Mortal Engines and featuring Shrike and young Hester. I wrote about ten years ago, and it was my first collaboration with Sarah McIntyre, who did the illustrations - we were still trying to work out how we were going to work together in those days. My version vanished when my old website went down,  there’s still a copy on Sarah’s website .  And here’s a Christmas story we wrote about our Roly Poly Flying Pony, Kevin . Like the Mortal Engines one, it’s a good few years old, and we drag it out every December and dust the cobwebs off it, but it may be new to some of you.  Happy Christmas!

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in 1975, but it still casts a long shadow over Arthurian cinema . Almost half a century later, any mention of Camelot on social media will prompt some bright spark to respond with, ‘It’s only a model!’ and any reference to the Lady of the Lake will have them trotting out that line about strange women lying in ponds distributing swords being no basis for a system of government. David Lowery’s recent The Green Knight drew the same disparaging comparisons to Brave Sir Robin and the Knights Who Say ‘Ni’ as Excalibur did forty years ago. (I found much to dislike about The Green Knight , but tweeting screenshots of it with captions like, ‘It is a silly place!’ isn’t really a valid criticism.) It’s as if Python has seeded our whole culture with glib little land mines which can be triggered by the merest mention of King Arthur, the Round Table, or the Holy Grail. I loved Monty Python’s Flying Circus when I was a teenager. Trying to watch the ser

Camelot

Bob Peak’s poster art for Camelot I’ve been planning to watch Camelot ever since I started this review of Arthurian films , but I kept putting it off. It didn’t really appeal, to be honest. I think I was expecting it to be something like Merrie England epic  Knights of the Round Table , but even longer, and with songs. Well, it is long, and it does have songs, but nothing I’d heard about Camelot had quite prepared me for how visually splendiferous it is. Adapted from Lerner and Loewe’s Broadway musical, and directed by Josh Logan, it opens in the pre-dawn mist outside the walls of Joyous Garde, where Arthur’s army is besieging Lancelot and (we assume) Guinevere. Arthur (Richard Harris) is thinking back on the sequence of events which led to this sticky situation. The story begins properly with a flashback to his first meeting with Guinevere (Vanessa Redgrave) in the snowbound forest outside Camelot. The snowbound forest is a studio set, and an absolutely gorgeous one: completely arti

Sir Lanval

A lot of the Arthurian films and TV shows I’ve watched while writing these blog posts are basically war stories, full of pitched battles, duels to the death, and the clash of sword on armour. But a lot of the Arthurian literature that inspired them isn’t like that at all. One of the reasons for Arthur’s enduring popularity is that his kingdom was an ideal realm of peace and justice, and even when violence does have to be meted out to some wicked knight it’s usually in the rather codified form of a joust: when he loses, he’s just packed off by the victor to Camelot to pay homage to Arthur or to Guinevere. What a lot of the stories are more interested in is LOVE. Sir Lanval, which this film describes as ‘an Arthurian fairytale’ was written by Marie de France in the late 12th Century for the court of Henry II of England and his French queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It’s a good story, and I’m surprised it’s not better known. This 70-minute adaptation, rather delightfully for me, is a local

Utterly Dark is Making Waves…

  Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep is listed as as one of the Children’s Books of the Year in the Times and Sunday Times, chosen by Nicolette Jones. It was also chosen for the same honour by children’s book magazine Books For Keeps … And the brilliant Irish author Sarah Webb, who moonlights as a Book Elf at this time of year to recommend children’s books on social media, also had kind things to say about it:   Gordon Askew who blogs at Magic Fiction Since Potter has included Utterly on his Books of the Year list too: And Philip Womack (whose own new novel, Wildlord , looks extremely up my street) has Utterly Dark among his picks of the year in The Literary Review.   Imogen Russell-Williams at the Guardian has included Utterly among her BOTYs* too. (*Books Of The Year.) And Annette Shaw at Devon Life magazine has kind words about it too: So big thanks to all of them, and to everyone who has posted nice comments about Utterly Dark on social media, or taken the trouble to leave rev