PolitFlix 16: King Arthur. Dave Bond and James Murphy Return to Talk about the British Legend and its legacy on film. A natural sequel to the Robin Hood ep.
Plus: the usual current affairs and political chat /news and comment. A BIG SPOILER FILLED chat about AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, through the prism of Athurian lore. Also: Star Wars: Luke Skywalker = King Arthur in Last Jedi? Casting James Bond, from GOLDENEYE to CASINO ROYALE and beyond: could Chris ‘THOR’ Hemsworth ever get a shot at the role?
And: British leading men, Royal Weddings, Marvel/DC universes, Indiana Jones, Disney.
Was King Arthur a ‘third way’ guy? We compare the legend to real world politics from Churchill to Brexit via WW2, JFK, Clinton and Blair. Plus: the usual lines of banter and insight.
So: sit back, sip a cocktail in the sun, relax, click below and listen. I think it’s a good one and hope you enjoy it.
Post-Script Show Notes
King Arthur is a definitive legend both in British culture and in the formation of ‘monomyth’ worldwide. Much like Robin Hood, there is no definitive canon as such. Instead: multiple iterations, some of which incorporate a focus on Roman /Saxon imagery where others go straight for an English take on Norse / Celtic and even Greek myth. There are common beats, though and Arthur’s stories invariably capture the rites of passage that define all life and its struggles, triumphs and hopes through the ages.
The Arthur legends start being shared around the 5th/6th centuries. He’s a kind of George and the Dragon style ideal: warding off Saxon armies and fusing religious ideals in a national template. Malory’s Morte d’Arthur (1485) is perhaps the most cherished literary iteration of that character.
Tennyson revised the legends, through a poetic prism of the 19th century. Burne Jones, Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy and TH White also added to the imagery and lore down the years.
Roger Lancelyn Green (an ‘Inklings’ member and friend to JJR Tolkien and CS Lewis) had a go at a condensed, codified canon in boys’ own novel format for King Arthur, just as he did for Robin Hood. Rosalind Miles gave arguably the definitive literary Queen Guenevere of recent years and with that a take on Arthur that is both revisionist and traditional.
The pic below reminds me of a lovely girl I knew at School. Hopefully she’s now very happy in her own modern Camelot somewhere. 🙂
But back to Arthur (never let Guenevere upstage you, Arthur!).
New versions keep on coming. There is something for everyone in the body of Arthurian lore, though there are common and indeed timeless strands and moral motifs, as relevant today as when they first were shared around campfires.
Standout elements include:
- The Boy who Becomes a King, pulling sword from stone.
- Merlin the Magical Mentor and Morgan the sexy witch.
- Arthur ‘once and future’ King: fusing fragile, fractured factions to a new nation.
- The Round Table Band of Brothers, Bonded by Battles for Britain.
- Grail-Quest: an act of hubris but also of heroic idealism and pure Faith.
- Lancelot and Guenevere (they were naughty after a night of partying at Camelot).
- Passing the Torch: Uther; Mordred; Galahad. Reconciliation to Father Figures.
- Death of Arthur, Excalibur cast to the Lady of the Lake: a hint of hope, ever after (Avalon / Once and Future King).
Cinematically? It’s a rich and deep well. Filmmakers can either dip into one particular element of the legends or attempt, ambitiously, to cover all bases in one epic. The pervasive parts have also become a foundation, arguably, in our own modern myths: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Marvel, DC, James Bond.
Heraldic heroism; family sagas; power struggles; mysticism vs empiricism; war and politics; romance: it’s all there! And ‘it’s all good’, as Gwynnie might say. 😉 Arthur IS Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces‘; from everyman to superman and back again, en route from cradle to grave; womb to tomb and vice versa.
It’s all ‘there’.
Honourable mentions in film, absent from the podcast include: KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE (1953); CAMELOT (the 1967 musical); Disney’s SWORD IN THE STONE (1963) and FIRST KNIGHT (1995).
BBC TV had a fair run with MERLIN (2008-13); Eva Green played a VERY sexy Morgan Le Fay in 2011’s CAMELOT (Starz TV).
We could not cover everything! But all worth a look though for completists, no doubt?
Covered in the podcast:
Epic, ambitious curiosity. Wagnerian opera meets 80s pop video aesthetics. Does not quite gel together but is a fair rendition of the major Arthur myths in episodic format. Can therefore be watched in a serial format.
First rate cast, including Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart. Cherie Lunghi a lovely Guenevere and Nicol Williamson a definitive Merlin. Nigel Terry plays Arthur from young to old and captures each stage convincingly.
By no means perfect. But worth a watch and entertaining for it. Not Boorman’s best but still good.
Made in the sword and sandals boom in the post GLADIATOR cinema craze, this is an Arthur film that fails to really be an Arthur film. Gone are the vital parts of the lore and the mysticism in favour of a straight Roman historical period piece.
There are some solid battle scenes, beautiful Irish landscapes and a good Hans Zimmer score. A great cast, too, with Clive Owen supported by Keira Knightley. Ken Stott, Joel Edgerton, Ioan Gruffudd and Mads Mikkeslon also feature.
Lacks punch, pace and purpose. But a reflection of its time in film.
Failed attempt at turning King Arthur into a new franchise power in film. Also notable for its bizarre insistence that our noble King (‘Arrfur’, played by Charlie Hunnam) hold his own as a hard as nails gangsta in Lannndaaan (london) before taking on a misplaced (rather than fully ‘miscast’) evil wizard wannabe king (Jude Law).
It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s just BAD. But there are some good action set pieces, ideas and a cracking score. Director Guy Ritchie shoulda just given us SHERLOCK HOLMES 3! STOP PRESS: SHERLOCK HOLMES 3 is happening..whether Ritchie directs TBA but hope it’s a yes as his work on parts 1 and 2 was great. ROBERT DOWNEY JUNIOR and JUDE LAW both returning. ETA December 2020, going head to head with AVATAR 2.
British comedy team send up the Grail Quest and the notion of Knighthood. It is hilarious and punchy, with self contained sketches woven together cleverly. ‘Not So Brave Sir Robin’, the French Castle, ‘It’s just a flesh-wound’ and ‘what is your favourite colour’ stand out among the highlights.
Does not out-stay its welcome. Harnesses surrealist, random interventions by modern Police and television reporters to simply end things when required. Frequently quoted /misquoted. The Python team at their best: intellectual yet accessible. Naughty, bawdy, sexy (look out for a cameo by the lovely Connie Booth).
Gave rise to the spin off musical, SPAMALOT, itself now being made into a film.
When is an Arthur film not an Arthur film? When it’s an INDIANA JONES adventure! Initially pitched as a haunted house film, the writers and director went instead with the Arthurian motif of a Grail-Quest, mirroring a hero’s search for his Father and their resulting reconciliation.
This is the third and was intended as the final entry in the Spielberg/Lucas/Harrison Ford action/adventure series. But they made ‘Kingdom of the Crystal Skull‘ in 2008 and a fifth entry is on its way for 2020.
Last Crusade is ‘about’ the Grail-Quest. It is also a Father-Son story akin, to Lancelot/Galahad. The script is cerebral, literate, substantial and witty. The action is atmospheric and distinctive. Top notch cast, too with great chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. Alison Doody absolutely lovely as the love interest / rival treasure hunter.
Great score from John Williams, as ever. The film is not perfect. There are some lulls in pace; certain characters thrown in and not served best when played for laughs. And it is basically ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark‘, mark 2, in lighter key, though ‘Raiders’ will always be seen as the superior film by many.
But this is beloved and brilliant; the best of these ‘King Arthur’ films on all levels of quality and entertainment. Last Crusade has real, raw emotional weight in developing its hero’s backstory from the coda prequel with River Phoenix to the last shot of heroes riding into the sunset. Beautiful.
One day? Indiana Jones might just be as legendary as King Arthur. But it all depends on that fifth film so they’d better make it a good one! NO in universe reboots or lazy torch passing and NO dwelling on death / darkness/age.
INDIANA JONES 5 = ideally: Punchy, fast, thrilling, scary, epic, Biblical quest fuelled, baddie besting, creepy crawly dodging, roguish and grumpy but ultimately decent and charming, escapist FUN. Nothing more, nothing less..Dr Jones..please! 😉
AVENGERS:INFINITY WAR is on general release. It is the 19th film in the MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE, which started a decade ago with Robert Downey Junior as the great Tony Stark (he’s part Merlin; part Lancelot: if we must extend Arthurian metaphors?) in IRON MAN.
These super-heroes have become our modern mythology and even come with their own heraldry. Thor is a kind of once and future King; Captain America an Arthurian idealist. And so on. And they’re breaking all sorts of box office records with this week. Marvel rule supreme! Pity poor old DC, though they too are regrouping and hope to catch up, notably by launching DC UNIVERSE
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is available on home video formats / streaming /download etc. Is Luke Skywalker a bit like King Arthur: yep! Is Han Solo therefore a kind of Lancelot (course he is!). Obi Wan = Merlin. Kylo = Mordred. And so on. It’s not word for word, beat for beat King Arthur in space but not far off: Jedi KNIGHTS etc.
JAMES BOND films and books frequently reference heraldic imagery. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH call that out most prominently. The villains are the dragons of the day for St George / Arthur counterpart 007 to slay. Bond: also like Indiana Jones /Han Solo/Tony Stark et al, enjoys a kind of Lancelot style moral neutrality.
He can walk in and out of the action, kill the baddies and win the hearts of the ladies he loves. But he is unfettered by specific moral or social or political codes: a man who lives without consequence and is therefore the ultimate male fantasy and equally, a highly prized part for ANY actor even considered for or talked about being in consideration for playing the role onscreen.
The Third Way is a socio-political philosophy whereby one avoids siding with a purely socialist or capitalist worldview. Instead: there is a fusion of private enterprise and public sector ideals and resources.
As an idea / project / philosophy? Wonderful! In practice, like all other political systems, there are phases and flaws and alas, at present, the world appears to have reverted to a more didactic and polarised, adversarial style. But it was a beloved system under Tony Blair /Bill Clinton. And could be again. The once and future Third Way?
‘Time will Tell. It always does’.
The wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle will take place on May 19th. We wish the happy couple a lovely day: God save the Queen. Rule Britannia. And..PARTY! 🙂
Round Tables can be purchased from IKEA. Magic accessories = extra, though. 😉
Dave Bond is Host at Do You Expect us to Talk.
James Murphy is currently engaged on a quest to find the Holy Grail. He’s as magical as Merlin; as brave as Lancelot and above all: as modest as Arthur. Modern Gueneveres no doubt all adore him. And Morgan Le Fays. Yep. 😉
PolitFlix will Return with ‘Episode 17: Mother Russia’. Thank you for listening.