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Showing posts from October, 2021

Arthur of the Britons (1972)

Disaster struck my Arthurian film project this week: I had been planning to add some variety with a viewing of George A Romero’s Knightriders , in which the Camelot story plays out within a motorcycle jousting team in early ‘80s California. But to my horror and amazement it’s not available to stream in the UK, and DVDs are surprisingly pricey: it joins Bresson's Lancelot du Lac and Cocteau's The Eternal Return on my list of hard-to-track-down Holy Grails. Anyway, I spent so long looking for Knightriders that there wasn't time to watch a whole movie, so I turned instead to another old TV version, Arthur of the Britons , which is easily available on YouTube. This one comes from 1972 and I’d never seen it, although I’ve often heard it mentioned with great affection. I imagine there's a cohort five or ten years older than me for whom it crystallised the image of King Arthur and co in the same way Excalibur did for me. There’s a fan website full of interviews and behind-


I’ve always loved autumn. When I was quite small I remember thinking these ‘Goldener Oktober’ wine adverts were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, and spent ages trying to copy the lettering. (I wonder what the wine was like? My parents didn’t drink, so I probably didn’t even really know what wine was.) I never did get the lettering right, but autumn is still my favourite season. Autumn sunlight is better than summer sunlight (more golden, less hot), leaves, ferns, and grasses start to turn more interesting colours after the drab greens of July and August, and the architecture of the trees starts to become visible again as their leaves are stripped away.  There are mists, mushrooms, blackberries (until Michaelmas when the Devil wees on them, the creature), and even in town there are sometimes great drifts of cornflake-crisp leaves to scuff through. If you’re lucky there is woodsmoke in the air, frost on the morning lawns, and a bracing chill when the sun goes down. If you’re not,

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

If you’d asked me as a small child who Merlin was, I would have been able to tell you. He was a wise but eccentric old wizard, and he looked like this: I’d never seen Disney’s The Sword in the Stone - Disney films never came on TV in those days, just got re-released at the cinema from time to time. But clips cropped up fairly frequently on programmes like Screen Test and the Bank Holiday Disney Time specials, and I think we had a book with some of the pictures and presumably the story in. So, even without seeing it, it was still one of my first encounters with Arthurian legend, and that’s probably true for most people of my generation.  As Disney animations go, I don’t think it’s quite top tier - it’s not as good as Sleeping Beauty, or The Jungle Book - but that’s a high bar and it’s still pretty good. Based on the novel by TH White, and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, it tells the story of the Wart (it rhymes with ‘Art’) who lives with his stepfather Sir Ector and loutish stepbroth

The Boy Merlin (1979)

Watching all these Arthurian Movies lately shook loose a memory of this Thames TV children’s programme, which I saw when it was first broadcast back in 1979 (I think it was on Monday afternoons, about 4.30: not exactly Prestige Drama.) So I looked it up on YouTube - where it’s available for free since it has ‘no commercial potential’ - and what do you know, it’s surprisingly good! Devised by Anne Carlton and written by veteran communist-turned-Wiccan (!) TV writer Stewart Farrar, The Boy Merlin  was expanded from a single episode of the anthology series Shadows . It has the twelve-year-old Merlin living with his foster parents, a smith named Dafydd (Donald Houston)and his wife Blodwen (Margaret John) , and honing his magic skills with the help of his foster-grandmother Myfanwy (Rachel Thomas) But as the illegitimate grandson of local ruler King Conaan of Caernarfon (Meredith Edwards) he’s soon embroiled in his grandfather’s dealings with tyrannical High King Vortigern (Neil McCarthy)

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

One of the reasons the Arthurian Legends appeal so much to writers and film makers is that there is no single original version. If there ever was, it was a tale told by some Romano-British storyteller, sitting by a fire in a damp hall, perhaps expounding on the great deeds of a local ruler or late Roman general, and spicing up the action with some motifs borrowed from old Celtic myths. In the centuries that followed, the story grew, and changed. Lots of legends about other heroes got tacked on to it. French and German poets got hold of it and added Camelot, the Grail, and Courtly Love: Malory borrowed from them all in his Morte D’Arthur . Later, everyone from Tennyson to TH White to Rick Wakeman to little me retold the stories, altering them to fit our own vision and reflect our own times. So you can do whatever you like with King Arthur: everyone else has. At least, that’s the theory. Now here's Guy Ritchie’s 2017 box office catastrophe King Arthur, Legend of the Sword to destru

Knights of the Round Table (1953)

This was probably the first King Arthur movie I ever saw. It’s the sort of thing that used to turn up on TV pretty regularly in the 1970s, and I think I have vague memories of watching but not really following it - though it’s so much of it’s time, and looks so like the illustrations in children’s history books or Look and Learn magazine that I may be misremembering. I recall it being very obviously shot in California, but in fact it was made in Ireland and England - Modred’s castle, where a climactic duel takes place, is at Hay Tor, a half hour walk from my house. The weather is unusually nice though - almost every outdoor scene takes place in blazing sunshine, under clear blue skies, so there’s none of the misty Celtic twilight that infuses later Arthurian films. This is a version of Arthur which has been stripped of most of its usual magical elements. The sword Excalibur is revealed at the beginning, embedded in an anvil and hidden behind some ivy in front of a back-projection of th

Perceval le Gallois

I don’t use a Windows computer, but if I did, I imagine that irritating anthropomorphic paper clip would be popping up about now to say, ‘It looks like you’re starting a lengthy occasional series of blog posts in which you try to watch every Arthurian film ever made.’ And I suppose I am, although I doubt I’ll actually be able to find all of them, and there’s no way I’m sitting through that Clive Owen one again.  It’s liable to take a while too, but here to be going on with is Episode 4, in which I take my very first look at what must be one of the most eccentric yet accurate versions of an Arthurian story ever committed to celluloid. The previous Arthurian movies I’ve written about ( Excalibur , Gawain and the Green Knight , and The Green Knight ) all share a similar aesthetic: filmed among the mountains, woods and waterfalls of Wales and Ireland, they draw much of their visual power from nature, landscape, and a certain wintry light reflecting from their heroes’ armour. Éric Rohmer