Before watching the movie:
The more I dig around the edges to get a bearing on what to expect, the more excited I get. This is described on the box as a very witty and literate show, and while I don’t think I’ve heard any of the songs before, the titles I’ve come across sound lovely.
I’m not sure if Vanessa Redgrave had a career renaissance recently or if it’s one of those cases where I just didn’t start noticing her until I noticed her. Still, it’s going to be rather different to see her as a young lady and a love interest, and I don’t think I’ve heard her sing before either. I know Richard Harris both as a singer and an actor. I think. He’s still muddled in my mind with Richard Attenborough, but I’m fairly certain I’ve now got them straight.
For the most part, I’m ready to be swept away, but there’s a voice in the back of my mind going “on second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. Tis a very silly place.”
After watching the movie:
In his concern about the violence and abuse of power going on in the world, King Arthur institutes a Round Table of valiant knights pledged to use their might for right and justice. Across the Channel in France, Lancelot du Lac hears of this order of virtuous knights and comes to Camelot to serve in it, certain that no other knight could come close to the paragon of virtue he knows himself to be. Arthur is immediately taken with the man’s skill, intelligence, and sense of justice, but Queen Guenevere finds Lancelot annoyingly full of himself, and gets the three knights most devoted to her to challenge him in the jousting tournament. At tournament, one joust goes wrong and Lancelot accidentally kills one of his opponents, then works a miracle to bring him back, I guess for Guenevere, because she and Lancelot realize at that moment that they’re in love with each other. While Arthur notices this almost immediately, he loves them both too much to say or do anything, allowing their affair to rot the order of the Round Table over the next several years, leaving it in complete disarray just in time for Arthur’s illegitimate son to show up.
I’m afraid this was built up too much. I was expecting a grand, graceful, definitive Arthurian romance. The romance was the main thing hyped for this story, and I didn’t find it very romantic. The most romantic scene is at the beginning, when Arthur and Guenevere meet, but Guenevere doesn’t know he’s the man she’s pledged to marry. Maybe that set me up to sympathize too much with Arthur, since clearly the intended romantic focus was Lancelot and Guenevere, but I didn’t find their relationship exceptionally romantic.
There are two characters I don’t really understand the point of. King Pellinore is a pleasant character, but I don’t understand what his role in the story is. Maybe he’s intended as a mentor for Arthur since he can’t have Merlin? On the other hand, Mordred’s use is simple enough, but I think too simple. He seems to only be there to catalyze a finale, when I’d have preferred to see him open the story up to explore the parallel between Arthur’s attitude toward his own past indiscretion and toward Lancelot and Guenevere’s affair. That’s probably a too modern idea to be brought up.
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered a musical that had an intermission ending that was more satisfying than the final end. On the one hand, Arthur deciding to let his wife and best friend continue in their unfaithfulness because he cares for them too much. On the other, after all this focus on the love triangle, the final scene summarizes the movie as “neither the outcome of this battle nor all the moral decay that led to it matter, because people will remember the ideal Camelot used to be.”
I always have to comment on the balance of music and story in musicals. Most of the songs are well-placed, and do more to carry the story thematically than the talking. In fact, listening to the Broadway original cast album, there are some songs cut from the movie that would have helped the story make sense if they stayed in. Especially at the beginning, the talking seems to be reserved for laying down lengthy stretches of exposition. “Yes, I, the man you met in the forest, am Arthur. Let me explain at length how I became king for no apparent reason.” Looking for songs that could have been cut for time, nothing stands out so much as “The Lusty Month of May”.
There’s a definitive movie about the rule of Arthur out there. I wanted this to be it, but I don’t think it is. The music was good, at times witty. It set out to tell the story of the Arthur/Guenevere/Lancelot love triangle, and it did that well. I was glad that it included Lancelot saving Guenevere from execution, because I’d never seen that scene done before, and it seemed to lend itself to cinema. It didn’t disappoint. The rest did somewhat. However, I’m confident I’d enjoy it more on future viewings, knowing what it is and isn’t.
Watch this movie: for angsty love triangle torment with real, unironic knights in shining armor.
Don’t watch this movie: for an epic tale of the Once and Future King.