That Arfur bloke wasn’t a bad old geezer, wuz he? No, mate. Okay, so it done his head in trying to get the hang of – whaddya call it, Excalleybur? – but the job was Oxo in the end, innit?
There’s a joke told about John Wayne when he played the soldier at the foot of the cross in The Greatest Story Ever Told. After Christ died he had the line: “Truly this man was the son of God.” The director wasn’t happy with the way he said it so he told him to put some ‘awe’ into it. Wayne then cleared his throat and went: “Aw, truly this man was the son of God.”
The (probably apocryphal) anecdote sprang to mind as I watched this umpteenth re-working of the Thomas Malory tale from Guy Ritchie. Ritchie is a man who directs films for people who move their lips as they read. It was always going to be dodgy letting him loose on a quasi-historical epic.
The script is riddled with words like ‘celebrity’ and ‘pro-active’, sentences like “It’s not gonna happen, boss.” You keep wondering if Vinnie Jones is going to turn up with a gang of yobboes from the East End going, “okay, guv? Got cash and carried to that Lady Guinevere bird yet?’ It’s Lock, Stock and Two Smokin’ Chainmails.
The cast is problematic too. We all know what happened when they kitted Brad Pitt (Troy) and Colin Farrell (Alexander) out in togas, don’t we? That’s right. Career suicide. Bottom line? You don’t put prettyboys in frocks or they’ll come across as effeminate.
Something similar applies to Jude Law here. He’s Vortigern, the bad egg of the piece. He kills Arthur’s parents and usurps his throne. But he’s too bland-looking. Ditto for Aidan Gillen and Eric Bana (two goodies) and Charlie Hunnam (Arthur). None of them have ‘period’ faces. We don’t feel they’ve come from savage battlefields in ‘Londonium’, as Ritchie calls it. They look more like people who’ve been negotiating the quarter-finals of the Wimbledon tennis championships.
Notwithstanding such blips, the film hums. It has a hydraulic energy that carries it along.
When it’s not being an unintentional hoot it’s full of Stygian excess, penumbral shadows, psychedelic special effects, strange witchy creatures, Harry Potter-ish spells from Guinevere. (Here’s a lady who’s almost as odd as her name – Astrid-Berges Frisbey. Is she a person or a game?)
Law needed to be more insane. That way we might have accepted him knifing the women in his life every time he has a bad hair day. The supporting members of the cast sound like they just got off the tube at Hyde Park Corner – except for Gillen. He’s more like a Dart fugitive from Glenageary.
If this is the London – sorry, Londonium – of five centuries ago I’m a Dutchman. It sounds more like the London of five minutes ago.