Giving the women of Arthurian legend their due

Mists of Avalon

Based on the book by Marion Zimmer Bradley; I read the book when I was doing research for my Morgan le Fae capstone project (in order to complete my Creative Writing major; and at 876 pages, I am pretty sure it is the longest book I’ve read). It has greatly influenced elements of the fantasy series I am planning: how the Faerie kingdom works, heck it’s influenced character names. I also made a deal with my brother; he said he wouldn’t read it since it was about women, I found that sexist. In return, I would read Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy and a Clive Cussler book. And after having Morgan le Fae vilified by almost every other version of the tale; mainly since she is a female with magic (Merlin has magic, but since he’s a man, he’s good…that bothered me a lot in Mary Stewart’s Arthurian Saga), I cheered that this presented the characters in a better light (well, more so in the film than in the book; the book is heavily pro Morgaine and the Old Ways).

The film was actually made for TV in two episodes. It stars Anjelica Huston (she was the stepmother in Ever After) as Vivianne, Julianna Margulies as Morgaine, Joan Allen as Morgause, Samantha Mathis (she’s older Amy March in Little Women) as Gwenwyfar, Caroline Goodall (the mom in Princess Diaries) as Igraine, Edward Atterton (he plays jerkass Atheron in an episode of Firefly) as Arthur (he’s nicer in this role), Freddie Highmore (he’s the lead in The Good Doctor amongst other roles) as young Arthur, and Hans Matheson (Lord Coward in Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes, and Thomas Cranmer in The Tudors) as Mordred. Loreena McKennitt’s Mystic’s Dream features in the movie several times (I was already familiar with the artist when I watched the movie).

The film is really told as a flashback by Morgaine. She tells us that most stories about Arthur are lies and the true story is not known. The story takes place in a time of violent upheaval in Britain; the Saxons are invading. They need one great leader to unite them all. A major point of contention is the Old Ways worshipping the Mother Goddess and the new religion of Christianity. The Old Religion embraces Christianity, able to coexist. Christianity…not so much. Morgaine’s father was a Christian man, Goloris, Duke of Cornwall. Her mother was Igraine, who still secretly followed the Old Ways. Igraine’s sister Morgause lived with them and she was more open about following the Goddess. Their eldest sister is Vivianne, the Lady of the Lake. She and Merlin come to Cornwall to speak to Igraine. The current king, Ambrosis is old and due to name a successor, but they’re looking further ahead to the future. They’ve seen one who will unite Britain, but he needs to be born to two who follow the Old Ways. Igraine is to bear the king, but not by Goloris; instead to one who bears a dragon tattoo. Morgause offers, but Vivianne shuts her down. Igraine refuses. But she and Goloris attend the king, where she meets Uther Pendragon, and man who bears a dragon tattoo. He sees her afterwards and they speak of a recognition they both feel; they were lovers in a former life. Igraine still tries to resist, but it doesn’t help that Uther is named Ambrosis’s successor. Goloris notices Uther’s interest in his wife and he is turned against the High King.

But Igraine later has a vision of Goloris attacking Uther and acts to warn Uther. The two men face on the battlefield. The magic weakens Igraine. The next day, Merlin comes to Cornwall with Goloris, who goes up to see his wife. Morgaine also has the gift of Sight and realizes that the man is not her father. Goloris’s men bring his body back to Cornwall and it is apparent that the man with Igraine is Uther. He takes Igraine and Morgaine to Camelot and makes Igraine his High Queen. They do seem to love each other and it’s cute when Uther sits alongside Morgaine as they wait for Igraine to give birth. Morgaine gains a little brother, Arthur, whom she loves dearly. Their time of happiness comes to an end when Vivianne and Merlin show up; both children must be fostered. Morgaine and Arthur both cry when they’re separated; Arthur goes with Merlin and Vivianne takes Morgaine to Avalon.

women of mists of avalon
Morgause, Morgaine, Vivianne, and Igraine

Avalon lies near Glastonbury, where the Christians have erected a monastery. To get to Avalon, one must pass through a lake covered in mist. A powerful priestess can part the mist. The Old Religion teaches balance between good and evil; the Mother Goddess rules over Nature and all Nature is sacred. Morgaine acquires power over the elements and joins the sisterhood. Igraine sees this and whispers to Uther “she’s been taken.” A visitor comes to Avalon once Morgaine is an adult; she hopes it is Arthur but instead it is her cousin, Lancelot, son of Vivianne (his father is never mentioned in the film and mentioned once in the book). Lancelot wishes to have his mother’s blessing to fight alongside the other knights against the Saxons; she wishes that he would stay in Avalon. She sends Lancelot and Morgaine to the Stone Circle. Morgaine is attracted to her cousin, but then they hear the bells of Glastonbury and Lancelot catches sight of a pretty young nun and asks Morgaine to part the mists. The young Christian is Gwenwyfar; Lancelot asks her to stay in Avalon a while, but Morgaine returns the mists. Lancelot leaves.

Morgaine is prepared for the Beltaine rights, the Great Marriage. She will play the Virgin Huntress and bed the Great Hunter. They are both masked. Afterwards, Morgaine hopes that the man was Lancelot…well, about a minute after that we see the man in question washing up. Not Lancelot. The man expresses his desire to see the woman again to Merlin, Merlin names the man Arthur. (Uh oh). Arthur must set out for Uther, who is the midst of battling Saxons. Arthur arrives in time to block a blow to the king, but he still dies. A vision of Vivianne instructs Arthur to take up the sword, Excalibur, a sword from Avalon; though he must swear to obey the Old Ways. He rallies the troops and wins the fight. Morgaine returns to Camelot for her brother’s coronation. He swears to deal fairly with both Druid and Christian; he will rule a kingdom united. Her aunt Morgause has wed King Lot of Orkney (in the Scottish Isles). Lot even mentions that if one man could save Britain, it’s Arthur. Igraine plans to retire to Glastonbury and ask for forgiveness for her actions against Goloris. The priest assures Morgaine that her mother has friends among the Christian community and they will take care of her. Arthur is thrilled to see his older sister again. He tells her that he intends to marry Gwenwyfar, but there is another woman that occupies his thoughts: he knows not her face or her name; they were both masked. Morgaine realizes with horror what happened. She confronts Vivianne, who holds that everything has been done in the name of saving Avalon. Vivianne hopes that Morgaine will follow her as Lady of the Lake. Morgaine rejects the offer; she will still follow the Goddess, but not Vivianne; she will never set foot in Avalon again. She will keep the child she now carries, but she will not let Vivianne train.

In the meantime, Arthur has put Gwenwyfar in the care of Lancelot. They are ambushed and once they escape, they speak of the brief moment they had between Avalon and Glastonbury. They cannot fight their attraction to each other and passionately kiss (more uh oh).

Morgaine takes refuge with Morgause in Orkney. Lot urges his wife to let the child die so their son will be Arthur’s successor (a nephew would take precedent over a cousin). Morgause, for some unknown reason, uses dark magic to curse Gwenwyfar; she will bear no sons for Arthur. The woman intends to follow her husband’s instructions, leaving the babe in front of an open window in the middle of winter. But in a fever after giving birth, Morgaine reveals to Morgause that the boy’s father is Arthur. Morgause has a cunning plan; be the influence on the boy and then when he ascends the throne, it will be her will done in the kingdom. Morgause dislikes Vivianne and doesn’t trust her (doesn’t make Morgause a good person, but it’s one redeeming quality she has, that she does not blindly follow what Vivianne decrees.) The Morgaine telling the story as flashbacks comments that it was this point that altered the fate of Britain forever; a new dreadful power was born. Several years later, Morgause suggests that Morgaine returns to Camelot to see her brother. Morgause will keep Mordred with her in Orkney (not the best idea).

morgaine and arthur
Sister and brother reunited

So Morgaine returns. Arthur is once again pleased to see his sister again (I find it adorable, their sibling affection…we should all know by now that it’s one of my favorite relationships shown). Gwen attempts to befriend Morgaine, though she admits the other woman frightens her since she follows the Old Ways. She summons the courage to ask her sister-in-law for herbs and spells to help her conceive; it is her greatest wish and desire to give her husband a son. Morgaine visits Lancelot; she still harbors affection for the young man (though I notice that the adults of the film barely age, not till the very end). She also knows of the affection that Lancelot shares with Gwen. Lancelot declares he loves Arthur more. Unknown to the pair, Arthur is watching from above. Another of Arthur’s knights, Accolon catches Morgaine’s attentions. He too follows the Old Ways. At the next Beltane, Morgaine gives a charm to Gwen to help her conceive. Following the information he has gained, Arthur asks Lancelot to bed his wife with him (he’s also a bit drunk when he asks this, but states that he wouldn’t be able to ask if he wasn’t drunk). A child conceived in the king’s bed will be the king’s child; he feels he is at fault for their childless state (nope, Morgause’s fault). All three agree. Accolon follows Morgaine and they spend the evening together.

Afterwards, Lancelot is upset with Morgaine for the charm. “How can I go back to the way things were?” Morgaine counsels he is not to blame for loving Gwen. But to help the situation, Morgaine arranges for Lancelot to marry Elaine, a young lady who is attracted to Lancelot. At the wedding, Gwen confronts Morgaine that her charm failed, there is still no child. She feels guilty for even turning to magic and the circumstances of that night. So she plots. She notices that Morgaine seems happy with Accolon. Accolon’s father, King Uriens of North Wales attends at the wedding and is an important ally of Arthur. Arthur wishes to reward his old friend, who wishes to marry. Gwen suggests Morgaine as a match (this is when I begin to dislike Gwen). Arthur has his sister’s best interests in mind and they ask Morgaine, but Gwen deliberately keeps mum on who exactly Morgaine is agreeing to marry. Arthur is shocked at Morgaine’s acceptance, but announces the betrothal. Morgaine is surprised to find herself engaged to the father, not the son. But she carries on and moves to North Wales. She finds that she is actually happy there.

On Avalon, Vivianne knows that Gwenwyfar tricked Morgaine. She confronts Merlin, but there was nothing the old man could do. Sadly, the time has come for Merlin to die. (In the book, another young man takes up the mantle of Merlin of Britain). Merlin comforts Vivianne that they haven’t failed; they’ve always done what they thought was right for Avalon. But he urges her to find some small measure of happiness. Mordred is their best hope now.

Speaking of Mordred, he has come to manhood. Vivianne appears, asking him to be Avalon’s champion. Arthur cannot be relied on any longer, he is beginning to forget the Old Ways. And he does not have an heir. Vivianne tells the young man that he is the king’s son. Mordred says it cannot be; his mother is the king’s sister. To Vivianne, that doesn’t matter; his blood is strong in magic. When Mordred speaks to Morgause, she cautions that Mordred cannot take the throne now; Arthur’s flame has never burned brighter, his knights will tear apart anyone who challenges him. Instead, he needs to discredit the king. And the best way to do that is through his queen. Mordred weeps; he’d rather love his father like everyone else does. He’d rather love his mother, Morgaine. He is already weary of God and the Goddess and Fate (he’s sympathetic, for a moment). But he drinks to Arthur’s death.

Mordred goes to Camelot, asking to be one of Arthur’s knights. He wins his place when he bests another in a duel. Arthur embraces him happily as his nephew. They’re a bit surprised to learn Morgaine had a child; she does not speak of it as there was sadness in his making (that’s one way to put it). After a while, Mordred confronts Arthur about his due. He asks Arthur to name his successor and reveals the truth of that Beltane ceremony years ago. Gwen begs Arthur to dispute it, but he cannot. Lancelot later finds Gwen crying and she reveals the truth as well. Mordred has planned this and has knights waiting to arrest them when they’re found kissing. The couple escapes. Arthur refuses to pass judgment on the matter; he loves both Lancelot and Gwenwyfar. He leaves the matter to Mordred.

Morgaine intends to return to Avalon after Uriens’ death, but she is attacked and injured. She tries to sail to Avalon, but cannot part the mists. Instead, she comes upon Glastonbury, where a nun spots her. It’s her mother, Igraine. When Lancelot and Gwen ride from Camelot, he takes her to Glastonbury, where she sees Morgaine. She apologizes for separating the siblings, it is her greatest sin, coming between their love. Morgaine is brought up to speed and rides back for Camelot, to save her brother and her son. The Saxon’s final assault on Britain has begun. Morgaine meets up with Vivianne on the road to Camelot. Vivianne confronts her sister Morgause when they arrive. This is not what the Goddess intended. Indeed not, it’s Morgause’s will. Morgause tries to stab Vivianne, but instead she’s the one who falls to the blade. Mordred cuts down Vivianne in retaliation.

Morgaine goes to her brother and rallies him to take up Excalibur again and stand against Mordred. At the battle, Lancelot returns to Arthur, bringing more men, but the Saxons still outnumber them, now with Mordred at the lead. The two face off on the battlefield (why do they take off their armor? Idiots) while Morgaine rides from Morgause’s and Vivianne’s pyres to stop them. Mordred mortally wounds Arthur, and Arthur strikes Mordred down in return. Both have tears in their eyes. Mordred’s last word is “mother” as Morgaine holds him. Arthur asks “take me home, sister. Take me to Avalon.” They set sail. But the mists still won’t part for Morgaine. Perhaps it has been lost due to their disobedience. Arthur offers Excalibur, Avalon’s sword, as a sacrifice. Morgaine throws it into the lake. The mists separate for a moment. “We’re home, Arthur.” But Arthur dies. The mists cover again. The bell of Glastonbury tolls. Avalon has faded from the world of men; only Glastonbury marks the spot now. The Saxons overran Britain and the Goddess was forgotten. Though many years later, Morgaine wonders if perhaps it survived, as the Virgin Mary.

As I summed up in my paper on the characterization of Morgan le Fae, Mists of Avalon delves into greater detail on elements of traditional Arthurian legend. It explains why Excalibur is magical, it includes how the sword ended up in the lake and its connection to the Lady of the Lake. I don’t think it gives great reasoning on why Mordred became evil, aside from influence from Morgause. Honestly, Morgaine should have kept Mordred with her. That could have prevented some problems. He stated he loved his parents and literally a minute later is plotting their downfall. This story gives a reasonable explanation for how a child came from a union between brother and sister, without being completely *squick.* The whole “for the greater good” excuse is annoying. It’s annoying in Harry Potter and just about everywhere else it is used. Vivianne is portrayed as a grey character. She honestly believes what she is doing is right, but the methods are not great. And she didn’t know that Mordred was being raised by Morgause? How did she think that was going to turn out?

I typically have liked Gwen in other tales, naming my main character after her, but not in this retelling. She’s petty and whiny. The Gwen from Mercedes Lackey’s book is an excellent role model; but I have my character pretty well figured, though she, as much as my story, has evolved over the years. Heck, my plot has evolved since I wrote my capstone paper. After reading Mists of Avalon, my focus shifted to Morgan. And I’m still doing research!

Re-watching this film, after the mental evolution of my story, has changed my feeling on some other characters. Lancelot is mainly fluff, there because the legends say he is. Again, a reasonable explanation is given for the love triangle and I believe that Arthur is progressive, and a good man, to allow it to carry on. It does cause problems with his knights. I mean, overall, characters typically have good intentions in the beginning. But everything becomes complicated and scheming gets in the way. I like this portrayal of Arthur. He is truly a good man. The three women: Vivianne, Igraine, and Morgause (the book states they echo the Mother Goddess and I just realized that their inspiration for my characters make mine echo the Goddess as well…not sure how I did that, but nevertheless, cool) have good and bad sides, like good characters should.

Some of the costuming is better at times; what the ladies where in Avalon is…well, I understand they were going for a fantasy look, but I’m not sure it was the best portrayal. Some of Gwen’s gowns are pretty, as are Morgause’s. Some of Morgaine’s gowns are not as successful. The fur on Mordred at the end was ridiculous.

This ultimately is one of my favorite portrayal’s of the Arthurian legend (the other, you may be able to guess, is BBC’s Merlin series). It’s a complete story and aspects are answered. The movie does not delve too deeply into the religious differences (unlike the book). (I’m looking at you, First Night and King Arthur).

So, next time, we’re on to the first season of Merlin.

And if anyone has questions or is interested in my paper on Morgan le Fae, let me know!

“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

All About the Love Triangle

First Knight

This film focuses solely on the love triangle. Sean Connery leads the cast as King Arthur (I mean, it’s Sean Connery; I can’t say much against him). Richard Gere (Pretty Woman) is Lancelot and Liam Cunningham turns up again as Sir Agravaine. To me, Richard Gere is not an action hero; fine lead for a romantic role, but not at home with a sword. Follows in the footsteps of Prince of Thieves (where Connery cameos as King Richard), a 90’s action adaptation of a literary legend. I don’t think it succeeded as well.

Prince Malagant is the enemy in this film, compared to Mordred or Morgan le Fae (he does appear in the legend, but not usually as the big bad). Lots of plot holes: how is he a prince? Why did he break with the knights? How was he one of them in the first place? What are these wars Arthur and his knights were fighting? Arthur is significantly older in this film than in other adaptations. Scrolling text at the beginning of the film gives us a bit of back story, then we see Lancelot fighting in a town square, offering helpful advice to novice swordsmen. That village is later attacked. The villagers go to Leonesse, to the Lady Guinevere for help. After some discussion with advisors, she decides to accept Arthur’s marriage proposal, to save her kingdom from Malagant. She also truly loves Arthur; she had met him before. On her way to Camelot, her procession is attacked, her carriage hijacked. Luckily, Lancelot is nearby to help rescue the damsel in distress. Guinevere puts up a bit of a fight, but still evident that she needs a man to rescue her. After the rescue, Lancelot kisses Guinevere (why? If you were a gentleman, you’d leave her alone!) Thinking he is utterly desirable, he teases the young lady that she will ask him to kiss her again before her wedding.

Guinevere finishes her journey to Arthur; he in turn truly loves her. Lancelot too ends up in Camelot, in time to test a mechanical “gauntlet” (again, why? Why is this here? I don’t think it’s period accurate). Honestly, it’s a way to further demonstrate that Lancelot is this amazing, fearless fighter. He wins a kiss from Guinevere and cheekily demands she ask him. She refuses, so he plays the chivalrous man and declines kissing her in front of the king and a crowd of people. Arthur is intrigued by Lancelot’s “display of courage, skill, nerve, grace, and stupidity.” He offers the man a place in his kingdom. Arthur shows him the Round Table; everyone is equal, even the king. “In serving each other, we become free,” is their motto. Lancelot declines, but before he can leave the kingdom, Guinevere is abducted, again. He races off to rescue her from Malagant and brings her safely home (well, there’s a stop in the rain in the forest where they discuss love, again).

first knight

After being tempted by Lancelot, Guinevere happily reunites with Arthur. Arthur in turn wishes to reward Lancelot and decides to give him the empty spot at the Round Table and knight him. Guinevere begs Lancelot to leave Camelot; he does not. She and Arthur are married soon after. As the knights are swearing fealty to their queen, word arrives that Malagant has attacked Leonesse. Innumerable troops ride out. They battle Malagant’s forces and defeat them. Leonesse is burned, but survivors had hid themselves in the church (tying in with a flashback of Lancelot’s to his parents’ death, he sits and cries after). Lancelot now realizes that to be a good man, he must leave Guinevere; he cannot jeopardize her marriage to Arthur. He bids her farewell and Guinevere gives in and asks him to kiss her. Aragvaine and Arthur walk in.

Back in Camelot, Guinevere admits to Arthur that she loves Lancelot; but she loves Arthur as well, just in different ways. Arthur still feels like Lancelot betrayed him. There will be a public trial, so nothing is hidden. Lancelot admits to the king that the queen is innocent, and he will die for her if that is what Arthur wishes. Before Arthur can pass judgment, Malagant and his forces overtake Camelot. Malagant demands Arthur kneels before him. Arthur approaches Malagant…then commands his people to fight! He’s shot several times and rushed away. Knights and townspeople fight against Malagant’s troops. Lancelot goes after Malagant, getting stabbed once, then picking up Arthur’s sword and running the dark prince through. But it is too late to save Arthur. Arthur passes his sword to Lancelot, his first knight (how is he the first knight? Aren’t there other, more worthy candidates?) and asks the man to take care of Guinevere. They lay him to rest on a pyre set to sea (keeps in tradition with the legend, but how is that Christian? They mention God numerous times throughout the film and there are crosses everywhere).

Further question: how does everyone else feel about Arthur’s last proclamation? The knights didn’t trust Lancelot at first, then he proved himself, then he’s kissing the queen, now he’s been given Arthur’s blessing.

Costumes are…not the best. Not entirely period accurate, even for the jump forward in time. There’s a lot of blue in Camelot; like, everything. And the helmets are stupid, no wonder they all took them off. Honestly, I prefer Prince of Thieves to this film. The romance doesn’t capture me; I think because I side more with Arthur. Battles are…eh. I mean, they were better in Prince of Thieves. This does not capture the soul of the Arthurian legend.

Up Next: Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Arthurian “Hey, It’s That Guy!”

King Arthur

Another film filled with familiar faces. Clive Owen leads the cast as Arthur. Ioan Gruffudd (a Welshman I know best as Horatio Hornblower [blame my brother], but also Mr. Fantastic in the slightly older Fantastic Four movies) is Lancelot, the primary narrator. Mads Mikklesen (later to be Rochefort in 2011’s Three Musketeers) is Tristan, joined by Ray Stevenson (Porthos in the same movie and Volstagg in the Thor movies) as Dagonet. Joel Edgerton (young Owen Lars in Star Wars) is Gawain, Hugh Dancy (Prince Char in Ella Enchanted) is Galahad, and Ray Winstone (Mac in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and voices Mr. Beaver in Chronicles of Narnia) is Bors. Keira Knightley is Guinevere, Stellan Skarsgård is Cedric, the leader of the Saxons, Ken Stott (he’s Balin in Hobbit and voices Trufflehunter the Badger in Prince Caspian) appears as Roman Marius. It came out in the wake of Gladiator‘s success and about the same time as Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, and Alexander; also big historical battle movies that attempt to “tell the real story” of popular myths. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (of Pirates of the Caribbean, which might be why some of the soundtrack is reminiscent; that, and written by the same composer).

This interpretation, like Last Legion, examines the Roman influence in Arthur. The opening screenshot states “Historians agree that the classical 15th century tale of King Arthur and his Knights rose from a real hero who lived a thousand years earlier in a period often called the Dark Ages. Recently discovered archeological evidence sheds light on his true identity.” Richard Barber’s King Arthur: Hero and Legend states “Arthur…was assigned the historical role of last defender of Britain before the Welsh were pushed back into the western hills (pg. 17).” In The World of King Arthur by Christopher Snyder “a new, independent Britain faced the overwhelming task of deafening its citizens and cities from barbarian invasions. Because he is the most famous of the British defends, the period has come to be known as the Age of Arthur (pg. 35),” roughly 400 AD. A British member of the clergy wrote in the sixth century that the Picts posed a serious threat to Britain and it was decided to hire Saxon mercenaries. The mercenaries were not loyal (surprise) and instead raided Britain, “until a Romano-Briton named Ambrosius Aurelianus assumed military leadership (pg. 38),” and victory at Badon Hill. Obviously, Arthur did not live during the chivalric age that he is so often associated with; there would be more written records. So this film is not far off in its assumptions, but still runs rampant with Hollywood History…eh, these things happened, let’s put them together.

Carrying on…Ioan narrates the beginning that as the Roman empire expanded, it came to conqueror the land of Sarmatia (present day Ukraine area). At the end of the battle, only five of the cavalry were left standing. They were spared, on the condition that they were incorporated into the Roman military, and their sons down the line would serve as well. “Better they died,” Lancelot remarks. He and the other Sarmatian knights would serve under Arthur. Fast forward fifteen years and the knights have a run in with the Woads (based on the Picts, but named after the woad paint they used). They escort the Romans to Hadrian’s wall, where the rest of the Romans are beginning to pack up and leave Britain. Arthur and his knights should be discharged, but the Roman bishop they rescued has one last mission for them before they can claim their papers. He wants the men to go north of the wall, into Woad territory and rescue a Roman family. Oh, and the Saxons are invading since the Romans are leaving.

king-arthur-2004-knights

The knights are angry at the deception; they have fought for a cause not their own for fifteen years, they want out. But they will follow Arthur. Lancelot is still the knight closest to Arthur and overhears Arthur pray to God to spare his knights. They argue over faith and belief; Lancelot does force Arthur to promise that if he should fall in battle, Arthur will burn him like the old customs.

The Saxons have heard of Arthur and are already planning on making their way to the Roman estate to take on the legend. At the Roman estate, Arthur demonstrates his strong sense of justice; he frees several pagans from being stoned in and left to die, including a young boy – Lucan, and a young woman – Guinevere, a Woad. Arthur insists on taking everyone who is able with them to escape the Saxons, knowing that it will slow them down. That evening, Merlin (the leader of the Woads, a bit different position than he normally has) instructs his men to trap Arthur, but not kill him. Merlin hopes to form an alliance with Arthur against the Saxons. Arthur is not keen on the notion, blaming the Woads for the death of his mother, a Briton. Merlin argues that based on that fact, Arthur is part Briton as well; these people left are as much his people as the Romans. They part for the evening. Guinevere ends up shooting and killing Marius when he tries to kill Lucan, leaving Marius’s son, Olecto in charge (a godson of the Pope and due to enter the church). Olecto reveals to Arthur along their journey that the man’s mentor was killed; the Rome Arthur has dreamt of doesn’t exist anymore.

The Saxons catch up to them at a frozen lake. Arthur sends the civilians away, standing with just his knights and Guinevere against a small army. Their bows can hit the Saxons, but the Saxons can’t hit them, so the Saxons move closer. Their combined weight cracks the ice (though why they insist on simply moving forward while the knights pick them off and don’t fire back; I don’t understand the tactics). Dagonet rushes forward and breaks the ice further, dumping a portion of the army. He falls in as well, but Arthur pulls him out. He’s been struck by an arrow and does not survive the battle. The knights return to Hadrian’s wall and are not exactly leaping for joy to finally receive their discharges. They should have never been sent on the mission and then Dagonet would never have died. The Romans still leave even when the Saxons camp out in front of the wall. The knights intend to leave as well; they finally have their freedom and want to return home. Arthur will stay and fight, bringing about another argument with Lancelot, who insists that this is not Arthur’s fight. Arthur pushes for his friend to take his freedom and live it for both of them. Guinevere comes to him that evening.

Cedric, after a meeting with Arthur, is excited to finally have an opponent worthy to kill. But he sends the battered infantry in first. The knights return to help Arthur and the Woads fire from the trees, decimating the Saxon force. Then the rest of the army rushes through the wall. The Woads have trebuchets (for some reason; I don’t think they were used in battle at that time period) and a full battle breaks out. Tristan faces off against Cedric and Guinevere goes after Cedric’s son. Lancelot sees her in trouble and takes over the fight. He’s shot by an arrow, but manages to throw his sword, killing his opponent. Arthur watches Tristan die at Cedric’s hand and fights the leader himself. A backwards stab does the Saxon in and through the haze, Arthur sees Guinevere beside a fallen Lancelot. Arthur cries to the heavens that it should have been his life. He feels he failed his knights; he never led them off the island nor did he share their fate. He holds to his promise to burn Lancelot. Ioan narrates the end that the knights gave their lives in service to a greater cause; freedom. Guinevere and Arthur marry; Merlin declaring him King Arthur. Arthur tells the masses that they are all Britons, united in a common cause. In the background, three horses run by, recalling a notion that Lancelot had grown up with that the souls of great warriors who died in battle are reborn as horses. The knights and King Arthur live forever in the legends told through the generations.

This has never been my favorite version of the Arthurian legend. It took several watchings for me to completely understand the story. The Roman influence threw me the first few times and deviating from the typical legend. I don’t quite understand how Arthur and Guinevere so quickly fell together. There’s really no love triangle (aside from long glances), but I’m okay with that. Arthur is the only character really developed. We get glimpses at the other knights. All of Guinevere’s costumes are impractical. Overall, not impressed. Never fear, we will get to some versions I actually like.

Up Next: First Knight

Arthur Started in Rome

The Last Legion

Taglined “Before King Arthur, There was Excalibur,” it has a lot of familiar faces. Colin Firth (King’s Speech, What a Girl Wants, Bridget Jones’ Diary) stars as Aurelius, Ben Kingsley (He was Nizam in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) is Ambrosinus, Thomas Brodie-Sangster (we just saw him as young Tristan in Tristan and Isolde) is Romulus, the last Caesar; and so many other faces that we’ve seen in historical and fantasy movies; and a lot apparently end up in Game of Thrones [I really need to see that show] While the movie starts in Rome (and I am horrible with Roman names, they all sound the same), it does end in Britain.

Ben Kingsley’s voice explains during the opening of the movie that years ago, legend has it a sword was forged for Julius Caesar, then hidden by his descendant Tiberius. Those who bear the sign of the pentangle guard its secret, searching for the righteous man to bear it. Rome lies in a precarious situation, a new emperor is due to be crowned and the Goths are demanding compensation for their work for the Empire. Romulus, who we think is just a boy running about the streets, is actually the new Emperor; he has Caesar’s blood running through him. His father is controlling and dismisses his teacher, Ambrosinus once Romulus is crowned. Aurelius is charged as the leader of the boys’ personal guard. The Goths attack and overrun Rome one evening. Most of Aurelius’s men are killed, as are Romulus’s parents. The boys is brought before the Goth’s leader and luckily Ambrosinus is able to make an argument to keep them alive.

Now Aurelius must first rescue his men, then his emperor. He has an ally with the Constantinople envoy, who sends one of his guards to help. Romulus will be granted sanctuary in the East. Aurelius is surprised to discover during a fight that the guard is actually a woman, Myrah. While on the island, Ambrosinus recognizes pentangles and sends Romulus after the sword. A plaque at a statue of Tiberius states “One edge to defend, one to defeat. In Britannia was I forged to fit the hand of he was born to rule.” Aurelius, Myrah, and a few loyal Romans rescue Romulus and Ambrosinus and meet up with the envoy, only to discover that everyone else has thrown their lot in with the Goths. There is no safe haven for the boy in the East. The small group manages to escape once again and head for Britain, hoping to find the lost ninth legion and gain allies. They’re followed by Wulfa and his men.

Hadrian’s Wall, a monument to Roman law and order is deserted. The remnants of the ninth legion have integrated with the Celts. They’re no longer soldiers, they’re farmers and have to contend with Vortigyn. Rome abandoned them, so they abandoned Rome. The Goths meet with Vortigyn, informing him of the sword. He is familiar with the blade; in exchange for the boy, Vortigyn gets the sword, and Ambrosinus (there’s a continued flashback of Vortigyn branding a younger Ambrosinus with the pentangle [fun fact: the young man is Ben Kingsely’s son]).
last legion

The Romans start to settle in with the others living at Hadrian’s Wall. Romulus becomes friends with a young Ygraine. A little family starts to develop between Myrah, Aurelius, and Romulus. Then Ygraine is grabbed by the Goths and watches a family (her family? Not terribly clear) die and sent back to the village to inform them that Vortigyn wants Romulus. It is decided there will be one last battle to decide the matter. Aurelius convinces some of the legion to join him and they fight under the Red Dragon banner. They’re vastly outnumbered but fight anyways, eventually reinforced by the rest of the ninth. Romulus decides it’s a fine time to wander about; I don’t think he was really prepared for the battle. Aurelius is wounded defending the boy, using Caesar’s sword. Romulus picks up the sword when it’s knocked away and stabs Wulfa for his parents’ deaths. Romulus charges Aurelius to live; he fought like a dragon. The man tells the boy that he fought like the son of a dragon. Romulus declares, no more blood; no more war, and throws the sword. It lands in a stone.

Years pass and an older Ambrosinus is walking with another young boy, telling him the story of the last legion’s battle. Romulus took on the name “Pendragon,” meaning son of a dragon; and he was raised by Aurelius and Myrah. Pendragon is the boy’s father and his mother is Ygraine. Ambrosinus took back his Celtic name, Merlin. Indeed, the boy is Arthur. The film closes on a close up of the sword, only the letters “E. S. CALIBVR” visible: Excalibur.

Some of the effects are painfully obvious C.G. Why is it that if there is a woman, there must be a relationship? Can she not simply be a female warrior, like a man? Overall, the movie is passable, nothing spectacular. I like how it was tied in with Rome; but the story is a British legend.

Up Next: King Arthur (2004)

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

Hesitant Reaction

I should be working on finishing season two of The Musketeers for the main part of my blog.  But since I mentioned seeing How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World in my first ‘Random Fandom Thoughts’ post, thought I’d organize a quick review of the new movie.  Probably goes without saying, but just in case: Here, there be spoilers!

I did see it opening day (not night, ’cause I work).  And I’ve seen it a second time since.  Yes, I love the movie, but I don’t think it quite lives up to the first two films, or Race to the Edge.  Grimmel is a flat villain.  His scorpion-like dragons are creepier.  Okay, he hunts Night Furies, which is bad.  But, Drago wanted to conqueror the world!  We never saw Trader Johan coming.  Viggo was complex.  Dagur got redeemed (yes, as it has been pointed out to me, a television series can develop characters better, but we’ve seen movies do better).

I was already sad, knowing that Hiccup and Toothless would have to be separated.  And I sobbed, both times, watching it.  It just…felt like it was missing something.  Astrid and Hiccup seemed to have taken a step back from the second movie.  Astrid is still supportive, which is completely awesome.  Again, I think it was missing something.  Haven’t quite figured out what yet.

One the other hand…the parts with little Hiccup were absolutely adorable!  And baby Night Furies…squee!  Really, the ending makes the whole thing better.

My disappointment may just stem from I had hoped Toothless and Hiccup would have found a way to stay together, forever.  I know that’s not what the writers had planned.  But fans change things 🙂

The soundtrack is good; I like Once There Were Dragons and Third Date.  Maybe not quite as much as the first two; those just blew me away.

 

Feel free to comment.  I’m sure I will do a more in-depth review later (at this point, I’m thinking like a year from now or something, lol)