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John Boorman's 1981 Arthurian epic should at the very least be applauded for it's sheer audacity and stunning cinematography. It was unappreciated by most film critics at its time of release, but is now considered by many to be a flawed masterpiece. Originally Boorman and writer, Rospo Pallenberg were trying to get a production of Lord of the Rings together. They worked on a script for a year but were eventually turned down by the studio. So instead they decided to make an adaptation of Malory and many of the ideas they came up with for LOTR found their way into Excalibur.

Nicol Williamson ... Merlin
Nigel Terry ... Arthur
Paul Geoffrey ... Perceval
Patrick Stewart ... Leondegrance
Gabriel Byrne ... Uther
Liam Neesom ... Gawain
Nicholas Clay ... Lancelot
Cherie Lunghi ... Guinevere
Helen Mirren ... Morgana
Robert Addie ... Mordred 
Keith Buckley ... Uryens
Katrine Boorman ... Igrayne
Corin Redgrave ... Cornwall
Clive Swift ... Ector
Niall O'Brien ... Kay
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The storyline of the film certainly follows 'Le Morte d'Arthur' by Thomas Malory, although due to time restraints some parts were missed out while some of the characters were merged together. The film tells the legend of Arthur Pendragon from his conception to his eventual death at Camlann. The visual strength of Excalibur is mainly due to the career best work by the late cinematographer Alex Thomson. It perhaps should have brought him an Oscar but he lost out to the Warren Beatty film, 'Reds'. Even watching the film some 25 years later the cinematography still seems strong and puts some of the modern CGI films in the shade.

In many respects Boorman succeeds in what he was trying do with this film. He manages to get a great deal of the Arthurian Legend into two and a half hours, which is a feet in itself. While the film does have some arresting sequences these are somewhat under minded by the poor use of music, (a point brought up by many critics at the time of release) which struggles to bring any emotiveness to the film's most important moments.

Some have also been critical of acting in Excalibur, which has been accused of being overly theatrical but when you consider the Malory source material, this was probably a deliberate ploy by Boorman. One of the intriguing elements of the film for the modern audience are the early performances by future acting talents like Gabriel Byrne, Patrick Stewart and Liam Neesom. Particular praise should go to the late Nicholas Clay for his performance as Lancelot. On a personal level his performance caught my imagination when I first saw the PG version of the film at the age of ten. Whenever I think of Lancelot I think of Nicholas's portrayal. I would also give praise to Nicol Williamson, who had many detractors for how he portrayed Merlin. It was in some ways a strange performance but I think the film would suffer without it.

Alan Campbell




Copyright 1999 []. All rights reserved.
Revised: June 26, 2010 .