Director John Boorman’s take on the Arthurian legends is unfortunately too often forgotten, neglected or rejected because it happened to have been released during the early-Eighties glut of sword-and-sorcery epics. But unlike Beastmaster and Yor, Excalibur is not just for Dungeons-and-Dragon’s geeks and fans of Tanya Roberts.
Based mostly on Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, Excalibur combines the many legends of Arthur and his Knights of The Round Table into one brutal, sprawling epic. Not a Sword In The Stone by any means, Excalibur is a violent and sexually-explicit film, with stunning (and Oscar-winning) photography by Alex Thomson, awe-inspiring production design from Anthony Pratt and gruesome visual effects from Peter Hutchison and Alan Whibley.
After a young squire pulls Excalibur from the stone in which it is driven, destiny dictates that he trains to rule England under the tutelage of Merlin (Nicol Williamson). All grown up, Arthur (Nigel Terry) attempts to unite his kingdom and assembles the most noble of knights to serve Camelot. Amid his quest for the Holy Grail, bloody combat and the treachery of the evil Mordred (Robert Addie) and Morgana (Helen Mirren), Arthur is betrayed by his wife Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and second Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), who can’t keep their chivalrous hands off each other.
The performances are first-rate. Although Nicol Williamson’s performance as Merlin is oft-celebrated, Terry’s noble Arthur cannot be overlooked. His Arthur is always heroic, but savaged by the pain of betrayal time and again.
Seeing Excalibur, you will wonder why First Knight was ever made.