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Monday, May 19, 2008

King Arthur, student of Pelagius :)

- Clive Owen as King Arthur

Last night's rental movie was the 2004 film King Arthur. It had an unusual cast ... Clive Owen as Arthur, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, Stellan Skarsgård as Cerdic the Saxon, Mads Mikkelsen as Tristan, and Ivano Marescotti as St. Germanus of Auxerre, among others.

- Lancelot and Guinevere

The movie is kind of interesting because it diverges from the traditional King Arthur legends and films (like Camelot, Merlin, Excalibur, The Mists of Avalon, or Monty Python and the Holy Grail :), for its producers said it was based on new archaeological findings and was more historically accurate.

I don't know about that, but the storyline did differ in many ways, and it has some interesting twists .... Merlin, for instance, is not Arthur's wizard tutor, but the leader of the Pictish tribes who were being pushed to the north and west, called "Woads" in the film (because they used woad to dye their skin, I'd guess), and Guinevere, Merlin's daughter, is pretty good with a bow and arrow, I suppose a take on Boudica. Galahad isn't Lancelot's son - in fact, all the knights of the round table are in this movie said to be Sarmatians who are serving 15 years indentured servitude to Rome in Britain.

- Tristan and his hawk

One kind of interesting part is that they show Arthur, a Roman soldier of British/Roman ancestory, as a student of Pelagius and his doctrine of free will ( St. Germanus, appearing in the movie, was one of his real life detractors). Here's a little of what Wikipedia has to say about him ...

Pelagius (ca. 354 – ca. 420/440) was an ascetic monk and reformer who denied the doctrine of original sin, later developed by Augustine of Hippo, inherited from Adam and was declared a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church. His interpretation of a doctrine of free will became known as Pelagianism. He was well educated, fluent in both Greek and Latin, and learned in theology. He spent time as an ascetic, focusing on practical asceticism, which his teachings clearly reflect. He was not, however, a cleric. He was certainly well known in Rome, both for the harsh asceticism of his public life as well as the power and persuasiveness of his speech. His reputation in Rome earned him praise early in his career even from such pillars of the Church as Augustine, who referred to him as a "saintly man." However, he was later accused of lying about his own teachings in order to avoid public condemnation. Most of his later life was spent defending himself against other theologians and the Catholic Church ..... After being banished from Rome, Pelagius headed east. He probably died in Palestine around 420, as reported by some. Others mention him living as many as twenty years later. The cause of his death is unknown, but it has been suggested that he was killed by his enemies in the Catholic Church.

- Guinevere with her woad on

Though the movie had its downsides - a hinky dialogue, a misrepresentation of Pelagianism, a bizarre mix of weapons and armour, showing all the Christians as rather venal and the Saxons as unredeemably evil with Cedric such a sociopath, he made my skin crawl - still it was entertaining ... the Picts were sort of freedom fighters that we came to embrace, there was a pretty nice scene with a fight on a frozen lake, the Battle of Mons Badonicus was not too bad, and the scenery, shot in Ireland, was beautiful.

- Cynric and his dad Cerdic with their Saxon horde

Here below is some of Roger Ebert's review of the movie, to which he gave three stars ....


[...] This new "King Arthur" tells a story with uncanny parallels to current events in Iraq. The imperialists from Rome enter England intent on overthrowing the tyrannical Saxons, and find allies in the brave Woads. "You -- all of you -- were free from your first breath!" Arthur informs his charges and future subjects, anticipating by a millennium or so the notion that all men are born free, and overlooking the detail that his knights have been pressed into involuntary servitude. Later he comes across a Roman torture chamber, although with Geneva and its Convention safely in the future, he doesn’t believe that Romans do not do such things.

The movie is darker and the weather chillier than in the usual Arthurian movie. There is a round table, but the knights scarcely find time to sit down at it. Guinevere is not a damsel in potential distress, but seems to have been cloned from Brigitte Nielsen in "Red Sonja." And everybody speaks idiomatic English -- even the knights, who as natives of Sarmatia might be expected to converse in an early version of Uzbek, and the Woads, whose accents get a free pass because not even the Oxford English Dictionary has heard of a Woad. To the line "Last night was a mistake" in "Troy," we can now add, in our anthology of unlikely statements in history, Lancelot's line to Guinevere as seven warriors prepare to do battle on a frozen lake with hundreds if not thousands of Saxons: "There are a lot of lonely men over there." (Her reply: "Don't worry. I won't let them rape you," also seems somewhat non-historical.)

Despite these objections, "King Arthur" is not a bad movie, although it could have been better. It isn't flat-out silly like "Troy," its actors look at home as their characters, and director Antoine Fuqua curtails the use of computer effects in the battle scenes, which involve mostly real people. There is a sense of place here, and although the costumes bespeak a thriving trade in tailoring somewhere beyond the mead, the film's locations look rough, ready and green (it was filmed in Ireland) .....

The movie ends with a pitched battle that's heavy on swords and maces and stabbings and skewerings, and in which countless enemies fall while nobody that we know ever dies except for those whose deaths are prefigured by prescient dialogue or the requirements of fate. I have at this point seen about enough swashbuckling, I think, although producer Jerry Bruckheimer hasn't, since this project follows right on the heels of his "Pirates of the Caribbean." I would have liked to see deeper characterizations and more complex dialogue, as in movies like "Braveheart" or "Rob Roy," but today's multiplex audience, once it has digested a word like Sarmatia, feels its day's work is done.

That the movie works is because of the considerable production qualities and the charisma of the actors, who bring more interest to the characters than they deserve. There is a kind of direct, unadorned conviction to the acting of Clive Owen and the others; raised on Shakespeare, trained for swordfights, with an idea of Arthurian legend in their heads since childhood, they don't seem out of time and place like the cast of "Troy." They get on with it.



Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I was very interested in this version when I first saw the theatrical trailers but never got around to seeing it. I think that it was around the time of it's initial release that I picked up on some documentary about King Author on the History Channel or Discovery or something which spoke about him as being a Roman soldier which I thought put an interesting spin on the character and the story line. Maybe it'll come on Movie Central at some point.

I like Ebert's review more for his references to how "today's multiplex audience" is unable to digest more 'meaty' dialog. I think that was well said.

As an aside, Teamouse and my son and I went to see 'Ironman' last night. Watch for that when it comes out, I think you'd like it.

I entertained my son on the way home with observations of just how closely the conversion of Tony Stark mirrored that of St. Francis of Assisi. He always likes it when I do that to movies ;o)!!!

1:17 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Pelagius was a more complex guy than a lot of people give him credit for. I'm not sure Pelagius was a Pelagian. In other words, I'm not sure if he himself was guilty of the very real heresy he was accused of. Here, on the other hand, is an interesting, and outright defense of Pelagius.

I didn't care for this movie much. Not one of Clive Owen's better performances in my opinion, and I thought the message was blatantly and over-the-top anti-Christian. Sort of that trendy new post-Christian/Celtic Paganism Revival chic. The scene with the sadistic cave-dwelling monks was just ridiculous.

What saved it in my view was that the Anglo-Saxons were far more interesting than the Celts. I though Skarsgard was superb as the pensive, brooding Cerdic. "Finally, a man worth killing...."

3:18 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I think BBC had an Arthur documentary back when the movie came out that told about the latest historical info on him. The movie was sadly not a great resourse for historical data :)

I remember Ironman comics. I used to read a lot of comics when I was a kid, especially the fantastic four, Thor, spiderman. Maybe I'll rent that when it comes out. I saw that Ben Witherington wrote a review of it and liked it too.

3:31 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

Yes, I think I mentioned that - both the christians and the saxons were shown as totally bad. Lucky Arthur, saved from a life of a Roman citizen and Christian by the love of a good woman :)

I really like Skarsgard as an actor (he was the math teacher in Good Will Hunting, I think?) and he was excellent in the Cerdic part .... he creeped me out, he was so convincingly menacing.

I have to read more about Palegius, he sounds interesting. Thanks for the link.

3:38 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Wow, Clive AND Ioan Gruffudd. I'm surprised La Reina hasn't made me watch this yet. We will be watching it soon, though, as I mentioned that they were in this together. So, I'm sure she thanks you.

Luckily, I like both actors. And I like the Arturian story. I remember this had mixed reviews when it came out. But Ebert saying that the director doesn't use a lot of CGI makes me more inclined to see it.

Thanks for the review and info on Pelagius.

9:20 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

I'm only so-so about Clive. The other guy I mainly remember as Mr. Fantastic of The Fantastic Four. But the actor who played Tristan .... :)

10:14 AM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

Alas, I hated the first Fantastic Four movie and refused to see the second one. We know Gruffudd from his role as as Horatio Hornblower in A&E's excellent series of films.

Only so-so about Clive as an actor or as a "hunk"? I like him as an actor. We were just watching the BBC series Chancer, where, I think, he got his start. It was very good.

11:53 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

You made the right choice - the second Fantastic Four movie wasn't as good as the first.

Clive is a good actor but I don't find him especially appealing. I've only seen him in one other movie, I think - The Inside Man, though my sister said he was in one of the Bourne movies.

1:13 PM  
Blogger WhiskeyRiver said...

Well known in his home country of Denmark,Mads Mikkelsen as Tristan was the only saving grace for this movie really.I did enjoy it,but found that Tristan stole the entire film from Arthur..Lol.Taking the Gold goblet that was on the Roman guys t able,and the Box that held their release papers,..made me laugh.
Each time he was onscreen it was hard to watch what the others were doing.His understated acting was great to watch.
(Sorry if others liked Clive Owen more,..I've never liked him.)

5:52 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

My sister is a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen as well :)

2:44 PM  
Blogger Maurice said...

An outstanding portayal of an
often neglected time period: the
onset of feudalism.

11:42 AM  

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