Connery Shines As King Arthur
directed by Jerry Zucker
starring Sean Connery, Julia Ormond and Richard Gere
Tangible passion, believable battle scenes and all the flair one would hope to find in the retelling of the most famous medieval myth are present in Columbia Pictures's First Knight.
The role of England's King Arthur was made for Sean Connery, even if he is Scottish and has never quite lost his burr. Britain's Julia Ormond puts a new twist on the familiar Lady Guinevere, giving her a '90s strength to match her fabled beauty. And while Lancelot, played by Richard Gere, is the least inspiring of the three, he still manages to make believable his part in the peculiar love triangle.
If the acting doesn't captivate you and the legend doesn't draw you in, the cinematography of the movie will leave you breathless.
Director Jerry Zucker's skillful use of camera angles takes full advantage of the richness of color in the costumes and sets. One powerful scene gives a birds-eye view of the Round Table as Arthur and his knights, with synchronized fluidity, lay down their gleaming swords to reaffirm their pact of brotherhood.
While Zucker's historical accuracy may not be completely flawless, he maintains its integrity by successfully bringing out Ormond's beauty without the aid of visible 20th century make-up. Her long hair falls naturally, her eyes need no extra emphasis and her lips bear no hint of extra coloring.
Connery's Arthur exudes strength and dignity. As both a leader and a man, this King Arthur is not the sappy weakling of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot. Rather, he has the character and masculinity that proves he is worth loving.
Gere's performance is nowhere near as solid as Connery's. Gere's stout American accent is slightly incongruous with the stately English court atmosphere and his screen presence is often dwarfed by Connery.
However, Gere's portrayal does flesh out the character of Sir Lancelot. This is not an easy task, since traditional Lancelots tend toward a dull, self assured stock hero, with a limited range of emotion. Gere's Lancelot does convince the audience that he really could rival Arthur for the Queen's affections. He may not have the commanding voice and imposing presence of Connery's Arthur, but he risks life and limb for Guinevere on several occasions, and isn't afraid to grunt and sweat while doing it.
With a particularly modern savviness, Ormond portrays a Guinevere who saves her ladies-in-waiting, pushes an attacker out the side of a runaway carriage and escapes an entire armed company en route to her marriage. This is no weepy damsel in distress.
Ormond also gives a new maturity to the character. Even as she struggles with her divided love for the two men, she upholds her integrity, saying to Arthur that he "has the best of [her], [her] mind and [her] will."
For die-hard fans of Arthurian literature, this film falls short by altering many key aspects of the original story.
The Round Table of the film, while beautiful, simply does not match the original story's Table which supposedly filled an entire banquet hall and could seat 150 knights.
Incidentally, the Table was supposed to have been a wedding present from Guinevere's father, later fortified with the magician Merlin's magic. In the movie, however, Guinevere's father is dead and Merlin doesn't even exist.
Arthur's knightly entourage is not the same as Arthur fans may remember, either. Agravaine is the only familiar name Connery's Arthur speaks. And while Sirs Gawain and Gareth are in the film's credits, they are unidentified during the movie, and Sir Lamorack, Sir Bors and Sir Pellinore are absent from this retelling.
First Knight's most obvious departure from the traditional legend, however, is the substitution of "Prince Malagant" for the traditional Arthurian villains.
The film's Malagant, who does not exist in traditional Arthurian legends, is supposedly a fallen knight of the Round Table who seeks to rule Camelot for himself.
Malagant's character in the film takes the place of Arthur's son Mordred, the product of an incestuous liaison with his sister Morgan la Fay, who brings about the fall of Camelot by exposing the affair between Guinevere and Lancelot.
Such sinuous twists of plot may have proven too difficult for this retelling to navigate, however, and it is not altogether bad that Zucker decided to change the story.
For in essence, the Arthurian legend is not so much a story, with fixed plots and characters, as it is a message and a feeling.
Passion, courage, honor, loyalty and betrayal--these form the foundation of the story of Arthur. And by bringing out these qualities, First Knight succeeds completely and incomparably.