First Knight
directed by Jerry Zucker
(Columbia TriStar, 1995)

Seeing Sean Connery portray King Arthur has long been a dream of mine (despite an awful performance as the Green Knight in the Arthurian farce Sword of the Valiant co-starring Miles O'Keefe). And it finally happened, long after I thought it too late.

Unfortunately, filmmakers apparently were in such a rush to make the movie, they neglected to read up on the character or his legend.

Although people with the names of Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot appear in First Knight, this is no Arthurian film. No fault to the actors; Connery, Julia Ormond and Richard Gere play the roles as they've been written with their customary skill.

As Arthur, Connery is every bit as regal as I'd hoped although, sadly, we never even see him strike a blow in battle. Ormond is feisty and fiery, a strong-willed queen. Ben Cross, as the villain Malagant, is another cardboard cut-out bad guy, single-mindedly evil and uninteresting.

Gere plays his part with arrogance, and he makes no pretense at an accent. While fearless and skilled with a sword, he is also focused entirely on just one thing -- seducing Guinevere away from the king he pretends to respect and call friend. The tragic element of the famous love triangle is greatly reduced without the trust and deep friendship Arthur and Lancelot are supposed to share.

Rife with anachronisms (a mechanical obstacle course? a horse-powered speedboat? pistol-sized repeating crossbows?!), First Knight seems to be set in no particular time period beyond a generic Middle Ages. And with many vital elements of the legend missing -- there's no Merlin, no Mordred, no Morgan Le Fay -- this movie would have been better without the pretense of an Arthurian connection.

Fight choreography is competent but somewhat lacking, relying more on camera tricks than actual skill by the actors to project a sense of violence and danger.

Still, as a plain ol' medieval romp, First Knight isn't bad. If you enjoy swordplay and adventure, watch it and try to ignore that someone decided to call this Arthurian. Let's all pretend the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 25 June 2001



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