"The concept of the round table is the basis of democracy."

Whoever said that needs their brains washed out with woad.

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The legend of King Arthur is about chivalry and Queen G, Lancelot's bit on the side. There was the sword in the stone trick, the Gandalf-U-Like figure of Merlin and an odd maiden in distress. Was there a dragon? Or is that Shrek?

Screenwriter David (Gladiator) Franzoni has tossed the legend and concentrated on someone entirely different, a bloke named Lucius Artorius Castus, who is half Roman and belongs to an elite fighting force, the Sarmation cavalry, that originated in Russia and later was drafted by the then superpower to act as Special Forces in outlying hotspots of its empire.

Castus has drawn the short straw and finds himself in Britain, where the Saxons are looting, burning and standing about in long coats, looking evil, as personified by Stellan Skarsgard, with hair extensions and a tendency to give orders in monosyllabic one-sentence bursts, such as "Kill them all!"

The knights - Lancelot, Gawain, Galahad, etc - are suitably scarred up and lack any kind of personality, not unlike their leader Castus (Clive Owen), who poses on horseback, against a backdrop of fake snow, mouthing speechwriters's jargon. The only one you remember is Bors, because he's played by Ray Winstone being Ray Winstone.

The weather's lousy. Be warned. If it's not pissing down, it's freezing. "The rain is good," Ray/Bors growls. "It washes away the blood." The dialogue has a tendency to forget what century it is. "Do we have a problem?" hardly has the Arthurian ring to it. Ditto: "Put down your weapons. Do it now!"

The film is pre-legend, pre-table, pre-Camelot. It should have been called The Sarmation Seven. Castus is deadly serious and deeply boring. Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) might have aped Iago, but is too ineffectual. Guinevere (Keira Knightley) is discovered in a locked room in an outhouse on a Roman nobleman's estate. She's being given the Guantanamo Bay treatment.

There are a couple of set piece battles, one of which takes place on a frozen loch, with innumerable under ice shots of crackage. Knightley behaves like Brad Pitt in Troy, rushing into the thick of things, leaping on men twice her size and, incredibly, surviving. She's handy with a bow and flaming arrows, too.

Antoine Fuqua, a student of engineering and native of Pittsburgh, is famous for directing Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day. He's less famous for making the Bruce Willis turkey, Tears Of The Sun. Transferring his penchant for gritty realism - The Replacement Killers was another of his - to 5th century Britain proves a cultural leap too far. King Arthur makes Braveheart look half decent.

"I belong to this land," Guinevere tells Castus. "Where do you belong?"


Reviewed on: 31 Jul 2004
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Pre-legend Arthurian back story of samurai-style Romans in Britain.
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Jennie Kermode **1/2

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writer: David Franzoni

Starring: Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Ioan Gruffudd, Mads Mikkelsen, Joel Edgerton, Hugh Dancy, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson, Stellan Skarsgard, Stephen Dillane, Til Schweiger

Year: 2004

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US/Ireland


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