“We eat ham and jam and spam a lot”

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Because Terry Jones is an Arthurian scholar, not only is it the funniest re-telling, it is also the most accurate re-telling of Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur (I’ve read the book, not my favorite, but yes, this film is very accurate). About the most famous of Monty Python’s repertoire; it’s also the only one I can stand. I’ve tried watching their other films and I don’t know if it’s because I’m American, or I just simply don’t get their humor, but I do not like them. Took me several years to talk myself into watching this film and I do find it funny. In 2006, it was adapted into a Broadway show, Spamalot. The main characters are all played by about six main cast members: Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and John Cleese (who I first knew as R then Q in Pierce Brosnan’s run as James Bond; he’s also narrated Winnie the Pooh).

The opening credits are…odd to say the least. At one point, there is a title card signed by Richard Nixon, there are subtitles that may be Swedish discussing moose – they end up sacked – multiple times. Then there’s crazy music and a bit about llamas. Finally, we reach the movie, set in England 932 AD (filmed largely in Scotland). We hear galloping…turns out, they’re coconuts (apparently a gag developed since the movie didn’t have the budge for horses). Arthur, King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England, is looking for knights to join him at his court in Camelot. The first castle he comes to discusses swallows and coconuts. Then he rides by someone calling “Bring out yer dead!” He comes upon Dennis the peasant shortly afterwards, who goes on about systems of governments [I would not want to learn all of his lines] and points out “strange women lying is ponds distributing swords is no basis of government,” annoying Arthur, who “represses” him.

Arthur comes upon the Black Knight next, battling the Green Knight. Arthur must face him and cuts off an arm. “‘Tis but a scratch,” the knight states, carrying on with the fight. Arthur chops off the other arm. “Only a flesh wound.” Next it’s a leg and Arthur mocks, “what are you going to do, bleed on me?” when the Black Knight insists he can fight. Finally, when Arthur removes the other leg, the knight calls it a draw. A brief view of monks intoning “Pie Jesu” and whacking themselves in the face with boards, and we come across Sir Bedevere educating peasants on how to test if a woman is a witch. From there, Arthur gathers Lancelot, Galahad, Robin, and “Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Film.” They ride to Camelot! (It’s only a model). On second thought, they better not, it is a silly place (after a song-and-dance number rhyming with Camelot).
Monty-Python

God appears and gives Arthur the quest for the Holy Grail. They come across a group of taunting Frenchmen next (giving us the line “your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!” which I heard in high school from my boyfriend at one point; not that I had any clue what he was talking about). They try a variation of the Trojan Horse, except with a rabbit, that they have forgotten to get inside. They run away, and as a modern history professor announces, separate. The professor is killed.

First: Brave Sir Robin (and his minstrels)…runs away from a three-headed knight. Next: Sir Galahad, the Chaste, sees a Grail in the mist and comes upon the Castle Anthrax, filled with young women. Lancelot rescues him from the peril; Galahad would not have minded facing the peril. Arthur and Bedevere face the Knights Who Say “Nee,” who demand a shrubbery. In the midst, we have the Tale of Sir Lancelot, who receives a note to rescue someone from a horrible wedding. Turns out it’s a young man. Lancelot gets carried away and starts hacking at guards and guests. The boy’s father lets him drop out a window, except he’s not dead. As he starts to sing a song, Lancelot beats a hasty escape. Arthur and Bedevere acquire the required shrubbery, but now the Knights want more. Except they cannot stand the word “it.” Robin joins the pair and they ride away.

Animation shows that they meet up with Lancelot and Galahad. A year passes as they search for the grail (they eat the minstrels and “there was much rejoicing”). They discover Tim the Enchanter (sounding very Scottish) who leads them to a cave, guarded by killer rabbit. Yep, killer rabbit; only defeated by the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (after some more running away). They discover a note inside in Aramaic, telling them where to find the Holy Grail. An animated monster, the Black Beast, chases them, but is taken out when the animator suddenly dies (lots of fourth wall breaking). Then, they’re on to the Bridge of Death, where they must answer three questions in order to cross. Typically, it’s name, their quest, and Lancelot passes when he answers with his favorite color. Robin perishes at “what is the capitol of Assyria?” Galahad messes up his favorite color. The old man falls when he asks Arthur about the “airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.” Arthur specifies which one. On the other side (from a brief intermission), Lancelot is nowhere to be found. The modern police inspectors arrested him. amidst holy music, a Viking-like ship (it has a huge dragon head prow) appears and carries Arthur and Bedevere to a castle (looks like Eileen Donan a bit). Except the French have gotten there first.

An army appears at Arthur’s request and they get ready to charge. Only for the police to stop them and arrest the two knights. The camera falls…and that is the sudden end to the movie. Apparently, budge had a hand in the affair.

It is a funny re-telling, but I have to be in the mood to watch it. I prefer more dramatic interpretations. There’s a short Merlin fanfic that intertwines with Monty Python: The Trouble with Legends by slightlytookish.

Up Next: Mists of Avalon

Another Tale of Tragic Love

Tristan and Isolde

This tale quite possibly influences elements of Arthurian legend, such as a love triangle. (Well, it’s French). The movie came out while I was in high school and my interest in Arthurian legend and Irish legends were already growing, though the marketing touted it as “before Romeo and Juliet.” Lots of recognizable faces. James Franco is the titular Tristan and Sophia Myles (she would later be Renette aka Madame de Pompador in Doctor Who) is Isolde. They’re joined by Rufus Sewell (Count Adhemar in A Knight’s Tale) as Marke, Mark Strong (Godfrey in Robin Hood and Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes) as Wictred, Henry Cavill (Charles Brandon in The Tudors series and Clark Kent/Superman in the latest DC movies) as Mellot, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster (if his name isn’t familiar, his face is; he’s in Game of Thrones, The Maze Runner, and Nanny McPhee) as the young Tristan.

The scene is set, telling us that Britain in the Dark Ages after the Roman Empire left is divided amongst its tribes, leaving it vulnerable to Irish incursion. The Irish king fears Britain uniting. The scenery is gorgeous as the film opens, showing a young Tristan and his father, preparing for a tribe meeting. They are betrayed and both of Tristan’s parents are killed. He’s saved by Marke, who loses a hand. On the other side of the sea, young Isolde buries her mother and already doesn’t trust her father.

Nine years later, both are young adults. Tristan faithfully serves Marke and they are hoping to work out a treaty once again with the other tribes. He is friend with Marke’s nephew, Mellot and they have discovered a secret tunnel that comes up in the castle’s keep. In Ireland, the Irish king Donnchadh agrees to give his daughter, Isolde to the warrior Morholt in reward for his loyalty; she will be his bride once he returns from Britain. Morholt leads Irish soldiers in collecting tribute. Tristan confronts Marke; they must do something to rescue the young people that were taken as slaves. Marke agrees, but they must be smart and act together. Tristan leads a group in their rescue, but he receives a cut when fighting Morholt. He kills the Irish leader, but passes out a few minutes later; the blade was poisoned (we already know what befalls the victims from Morholt showing it to Isolde. She counters that there is an antidote.) Mellot lays his friend to rest in a boat, set to sea then lit with flaming arrows.

The boat comes ashore near Isolde as she prepares to run away from her father and Morholt. Isolde chooses to save the young man. The young couple eventually falls in tristan and isoldelove…Until Tristan’s boat is found and Donnchadh begins searching for the slayer of Morhot (his sword had been found with the boat); Tristan must flee, but Isolde cannot follow. Tristan returns to Marke’s warm welcome and informed that Donnchadh has been scheming. He has set a tournament, with his daughter’s hand in marriage as the prize, along with a healthy dowry; it is an effort to divide the tribes. Marke hopes that if he wins, he will hold the support of the other tribes. Tristan volunteers to fight for him. (Isolde had told him her name was Bragnae to keep her identity secret; he does not know she is the king’s daughter).

Tristan ultimately wins the tournament (after a vicious fight with Wictred, the main opponent to Marke’s treaty) and Isolde gladly says she will be his, but is disappointed to learn Tristan won her for Marke. Marke is a kind husband, but Isolde is still in love with Tristan. At first, Tristan insists that they cannot have anything to do with each other and avoids his adoptive father and new bride. But Isolde pleads and he eventually agrees to secret meetings. Marke manages to get the other barons to sign his treaty and he will be crowned king. He names Tristan his second, passing over his nephew, Mellot. Which does not endear Mellot to Tristan, who has also been favored as a leader. Wictred, who has begun to notice the attention Tristan pays Isolde, suggests to Donnchadh that the coronation would be a good time to attack. Marke even begins to suspect that Isolde may not be entirely faithful and asks Tristan. Tristan assures his adoptive father that his wife is loyal and tries to break it off with Isolde, burning their meeting place. She still insists that they love each other and must be together somehow.

The coronation arrives and the men ride out, as an old tradition. Wictred leads them to Tristan and Isolde. The barons abandon Marke and he’s forced to arrest the young couple. Isolde comes clean. Just as the Irish are at the castle’s gates, Marke lets them go. Tristan has Isolde get in the boat, then pushes it away. He stays and helps fight. Mellot, hoping that Wictred will show him more respect, shows the traitor the secret tunnel. He’s cut down for his trouble and realizes his error. Tristan uses the same tunnel to sneak behind the Irish, rallying Marke and his men with his timely arrival. Another fight with Wictred, Wictred landing mortal blows, but Wictred falls to Tristan’s sword first. Marke confronts the barons: “there is no middle ground! Slay us, or slay him [Donnachdh].” Fights break out among the opposition. Tristan has Marke take him to the river and Isolde brought. The movie ends with Tristan’s death; Isolde apparently buried him then disappeared. Their love did not bring down a kingdom, like they feared. Legend says that Marke was victorious and reigned in peace until the end of his days.

For being so excited for this movie in high school, it’s fallen on my list. I see the definite influence for the Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur triangle (which is about my least favorite aspect of Arthurian legend). The movie drags. I connect more with the emotions of Marke than either Tristan or Isolde. It took me several viewings for me to completely understand the storyline. It’s a dark film; as in, there aren’t many sunny scenes. Those that are sunny have a layer of clouds. At the end of this last viewing, I found myself craving a return to Musketeers.

In 2009, Great Lakes Medieval Faire’s theme was the court of Arthur. It was probably the second year I had gone and I remember hearing all the characters on cast and happen to mention “I wonder if they have Tristan and Isolde?”…within hearing of Merlin. Merlin brought the woman playing Isolde over to me. (A few years later, they did Romeo and Juliet and being early to the dance, I was ensured a partner: Puck. I had a wonderful time and that was when I decided I wanted to be on cast someday). It’s funny to watch some of the older videos; because now I recognize people. Oh, hey, I know Morholt (who shouts “For Ireland!” at the end of the match. Arthur says he owns that too…no you don’t). I actually know Puck. And Mordred. And Guinevere.

Next Time: The Last Legion

Sword Fights Can be Dangerous

The Three Musketeers (2011)

Some familiar faces are featured in this slightly modernized version of Dumas’ tale. Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson) stars as D’Artagnan at the age he was originally written, Matthew Macfadyen (we just covered him in Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood) is Athos, Luke Evans (he’ll go on to be Bard in the Hobbit trilogy) is Aramis, Mads Mikkelsen (we’ll see him in King Arthur [and we’ll see Ray Stevenson, who plays Porthos in that movie as well], he was the bad guy in Casino Royale and Doctor Strange, and was the father in Rogue One) is Rochefort, James Corden is Plantchet, and Orlando Bloom is Buckingham. Matthew Macfadyen voices the opening narration overlaid little figures depicting that at the dawn of the seventeenth century, after the assassination of his father, young Louis XIII took the throne, surrounded by enemies, most particularly Cardinal Richelieu. The Cardinal plotted to seize power; all of Europe was a powder keg, ready to explode into a war that would engulf the whole continent. Only a few men could prevent the coming apocalypse: the Three Musketeers.

The film actually opens in Venice, highlighting the skills of each Musketeer. Athos is a ninja in the water, aided by Milady. Aramis is standing on a roof a la Assassin’s Creed [all I know are the video game trailers] and flies down on his prey. Porthos is the big bruiser, the bait to catch their opponent. They retrieve three keys to open Leonardo da Vinci’s fault, on a mission to find plans. Being da Vinci, there is a further booby trap; Milady takes it out by sliding and bending backwards underneath the ammunition (um, how do you do that in a corset?) When the guards arrive, they break out of the vault by blowing a hole in one of the canals, flooding everything. The four cheer their victory, but are interrupted when Buckingham enters, Milady having poisoned their cups. She claims that it’s nothing personal, just good business (where have we heard that before?) Buckingham had a better offer. He looks at the plans; they’re for a war machine, a flying ship.

One year later, father and son are sparing. The father has one thing left to teach his son; his adversary may not always be as noble as D’Artagnan. He and his wife wish their son well and send him off to Paris. On the way, D’Artagnan encounters a man in red with an eye patch who will not apologize after insulting D’Artagnan’s horse. D’Artagnan challenges the man to a duel, but when he turns around, sword drawn, Rochefort shoots him – proving his father’s point. His shot grazes the young man’s arm, but Rochefort is intent on finishing the job, until a carriage stops. Milady comments that the young man is too pretty to kill. They leave him; they have business in Paris.

D’Artagnan makes his way to Paris as well. He spots Rochefort in the crowd and chases after him, running into Athos. They set a duel. He runs into Porthos next, and another duel. He misses Rochefort and finds Aramis next to his horse, issuing a citation. Young D’Artagnan argues with Aramis and sets another duel. At the palace, Milady visits the Cardinal. She informs him that Buckingham has built the war machine and is coming to visit Paris. Louis stops in and asks what Buckingham is wearing, so he’ll be fashionable.

D’Artagnan is waiting for his opponents and when they introduce themselves, realizes that they are the famous three Musketeers. He’s still willing to fight them, but the Cardinal’s guards show up. They outnumber the Musketeers, but when D’Artagnan spots Rochefort, he steps into the fight. He handles himself well, but the other three decide to join, due to the number of opponents. The crowd cheers. In the midst of the spectacular fight, D’Artagnan stops to flirt with a pretty girl. She inquires whether he is always this cocky. Only on Tuesday, he responds, or whenever there are beautiful women. He and the Musketeers are victorious; the three older men have forgotten what it feels like. Constance cautions D’Artagnan that people are not as simple in Paris, then leaves. D’Artagnan informs the Musketeers that Rochefort had tried to kill him, that’s why he was fighting. Any enemy of Rochefort is a friend of the Musketeers. They call the young man reckless, arrogant, and impetuous. He shall stay with them.

At the Musketeers’ home, D’Artagnan meets Plantchet, their servant. He is also a little disappointed to discover that his idols are not as heroic as he imagined. They’re obsolete. They’re warriors with no war to fight. Athos doesn’t believe in much anymore (the result of Milady’s betrayal). They need a great cause to fight for again. They are summoned to the palace to be reprimanded for their actions. Louis is actually quite impressed by their fight; even Anne compliments them for dueling for against forty, as she was told by Constance. She asks her husband to not be too harsh with the Musketeers, after all, boys will be boys. Louis rewards them for their courage, a purse of gold and new clothes. When the Cardinal asks for harsher punishment, Anne speaks up for Louis; the Musketeers are his guard. Louis does ask them to stop fighting, or there will be none of the Cardinal’s guards left.

Richelieu plots with Milady to create a scandal. They’ll plant love letters from Buckingham in Queen Anne’s drawers and steal her prized diamond necklace and plant with Buckingham. Buckingham will be humiliated, King Louis will be outraged, the queen will be executed and war will be declared between England and France. In France’s time of need, the Cardinal will assume the throne.

Buckingham arrives in Paris in his airship, insults the king, implies that he intimately knows the queen, and insults the Musketeers. He speaks to Cardinal regarding peace between England and France while Milady breaks into the queen’s chambers (in a action sequence that is more modern than historically likely) to plant the letters and steal the diamonds (which are guarded by a maze of wires, of course revealed using powder. Again…how do you do that twirl in a corset?) Outside, D’Artagnan speaks to Constance; she keeps turning him down. Louis asks for advice from the young man; the young king is unsure how to speak to his beautiful wife. D’Artagnan counsels the monarch to speak from his heart and show that he cares. Once her mission is complete, Milady reports to Richelieu; she is to accompany Buckingham back to the Tower of London with the diamonds. But she wants an insurance policy, both parties know the other can turn on them. The Cardinal writes a letter, giving his permission for whatever actions are necessary.

One of Anne’s ladies finds the letters and takes them to the king. The Cardinal counsels the monarch to throw a party and ask Anne to wear the diamonds to test whether the letters are real or not. Constance discovers the diamonds missing; the queen goes to the Cardinal (who is in the midst of fencing, skilled where other Cardinals are not), who lies, they both know, but she wanted to see it. Constance goes to D’Artagnan. When he needs a little further convincing to agree to the insane circumstances, she kisses him. He asks who is with him; the three agree. Rochefort calls for them outside, intent to burn the house down. They ride out.

Orlando-Bloom-Duke-BuckinghamThe guards are waiting at the port of Calais. Constance volunteers to be the distraction; she can help here. On the ride to England, the four plot how they will enter the Tower of London. Milady knows they’re on their way; she surmises what the Musketeers will do to Buckingham. The Musketeers know that she knows, so they must do the unexpected. D’Artagnan is their wildcard. He gets caught, but his task is to stall Buckingham. Athos, Porthos, and Aramis arrive with Buckingham’s war balloon and blows the wall apart. D’Artagnan leaps to join his friends. They pick up Milady on the way, thanks to Plantchat. She has the diamonds; she would not trust them anywhere else. Athos forces her to hand over the diamonds and is ready to shoot her. She drops off the ship.

dart roche duel

But their adventure isn’t over yet. The Cardinal had commissioned another war machine built, much larger than Buckingham’s. This one is captained by Rochefort, and he has Constance as his prisoner. Athos urges D’Artagnan to save the girl; at the end of the day, duty to country will not keep you warm at night. France will take care of itself. They’ll do an exchange, the diamonds for Constance. But Rochefort takes D’Artagnan prisoner. The Musketeers fire on the other airship, which gives D’Artagnan the opportunity to take the diamonds. He doesn’t get far. Another explosion knocks him out, allowing Rochefort to take the diamonds again. The Cardinal’s ship lands on Notre Dame and when it seems to be rising again, the Musketeers crash their ship into it. D’Artagnan gets up and chases after Rochefort. They duel intensely on Notre Dame, Rochefort landing several strikes on D’Artagnan, but when Rochefort was getting cocky, D’Artagnan catches his sword and stabs the villain. The diamonds are back in his possession.

They limp the airship back to the palace, crashing into the gardens. The Cardinal is ready to arrest them, but Louis comes out. They spin the tale of Rochefort being a traitor and give credit to the Cardinal, so he can’t speak out against them without revealing his intentions. Anne emerges, wearing the diamonds and all is right in Louis’s world. He intends to make more changes and thanks D’Artagnan for his help. Richelieu tries to recruit the Musketeers, but they’re happy with their jobs. D’Artagnan and Constance kiss and he salutes with the Musketeers.

The film closes on Milady on Buckingham’s ship; they had fished her out of the channel. He has an entire armada behind him and a fleet of airships, bound for France to retrieve what is his. And vengeance on Athos.

It’s a slightly modern take on the classic tale. The fights are wonderful, as to be expected with a Musketeer film. As pointed out, several aspects are unlikely for that time period (like that whole sequence in the beginning and in da Vinci’s vault). D’Artagnan is filled with youthful impetuosity, true to character. Anne and Louis are a happier couple, and younger. Orlando seemed to enjoy playing the bad guy. Mikkelson was devious as he tends to be. I did enjoy his duel with D’Artagnan.

The Musketeer tale holds a special place in my heart; it was the storyline of my local faire the year I was on cast. I was a humble peasant (well, wise woman…translation, witch). Our D’Artagnan was excellent and will probably always be my favorite. Energetic and youthful and he threw himself completely into the action. Watching the duels reminded me of some of the matches at the chess game; like grabbing a sword. Kids, not recommended. (In our case, it was the Duke of Buckingham who did the stunt).

 

I do like this version; high energy and full of adventure, like a swashbuckling movie should be.

 

If you have any questions about faire, let me know!  It’s full of wonderful people and I have lots of good memories!

 

Up Next: We start BBC’s The Musketeers series