Retro Review: Excalibur (1981)

There have been so many cinematic interpretations of the fable of King Arthur and The Knights of The Round table. It is but a legend, and there is no proof that the king ever existed. But we all love a legend, so what if it is made up? I am here to tell you that all bets are off, once you see this superb film from John Boorman. This is the real deal. Fantasy mixed with dubious history, a wonderful cast, and superb film-making by one of Britain’s best.

When I went to see this on release, I was persuaded to do so by a friend of my wife’s, Christine Blackwell. She has long since married, and that is no longer her surname. But I will always think of the very attractive Christine as Blackwell. (If you should ever read this, Christine, you are fond in my memory. More than you will ever know.) But I digress.

Off we went, to the cinema close to Putney Bridge, not far from where we all lived at the time, in south-west London.

I was in two minds. We had the wonderful Nicol Williamson, as Merlin. The divine Helen Mirren (then much younger of course) as Morgana. Stars crowded in. The ‘new boy’ Liam Neeson, (He later lived with Mirren for some years after this film) Nicolas Clay as Lancelot, the gorgeous Cherie Lunghi as Guinevere, Charley Boorman as a great Mordred, and even Patrick Stewart, the Shakespearean ‘luvvie’ who would go on to ‘Star Trek’. The only ‘dud’ was the casting of Nigel Terry, in the lead role of the adult Arthur. Perhaps the most crucial role in the film, and thrown away on an actor who was at best, mediocre.

So, I sat in the cinema, with my lovely wife, and the lovely Christine Blackwell, and I waited to be impressed.

And how I was, in spades. Amazing performances, scintillating (non CGI) visuals, and standout performances from Mirren, Nicol Williamson, and the young Boorman. When a film turns out to be 100% better than you expected, it would be churlish not to be impressed. I wasn’t churlish, so I was suitably impressed, and how. I forgave the sad performance from NIgel Terry. I forgave the inappropriate armour for the period. I forgave Williamson’s Merlin running away with the role, and I just relished the ‘good bits.’ And they were very good indeed. Magical, mystical, sexy, and breathtaking to behold at times, this was a complete experience, perfect in a big-screen setting.

And the soundtrack. THE SOUNDTRACK! Using Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ in the main, the musical accompaniment to the film was simply outstanding. It worked, and worked so well. I had never heard of this classical and choral piece before. Christine had mentioned its use in the film, and said she knew it well. When we finally emerged into the darkness of a Putney night, I was buzzing, enthused by what I had just seen, and raving about just what an experience it was. But Christine had the icing for the cake we didn’t have to eat. Back at her parents’ house, where she still lived at the time, she had a copy of Orff’s ‘Carina Burana’, on a fabulous Deutsche Grammaphon recording. Off we went to her room, and listened to the record into the small hours. As it played, I could see scenes in my mind, and re-lived that marvellous fantasy epic.

Thanks for that, lovely Christine. I have never forgotten that night.

1981 is a long time ago. But I assure you, the film is still a wonderful experience.
(Sorry about the trailer quality.)

33 thoughts on “Retro Review: Excalibur (1981)

  1. Great post πŸ™‚ Sorry I have not been blogging for a while. I am having writers block right now and winter time has just proven to be horrendous (not to mention how tired it makes me). I have a job too, but that is not the reason for my absence. As for Excalibur, that film is the kind of fantasy that really does cast a spell over the viewer. How about that cinematography as well πŸ™‚ Anyway, keep up the great work as always πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my favourite Arthur films as well as one of Boorman’s most entertaining. I don’t know where I first saw it – perhaps, the Duke of Yorks in Brighton.

    The 2004 King Arthur movie is my number 1, although historically questionable. Best Boorman film for me is Emerald Forest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Roland. Where King Arthur is concerned, the ‘history’ is always questionable. πŸ™‚
      As for Boorman as a film-maker, I would cite ‘Point Blank’, ‘Deliverance’, ‘Hope and Glory’, and ‘The General’ among my favourites.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s still beautiful after all these years. I don’t hate Nigel as much as you, but I haven’t seen it in ages. After watching the trailer (great armor!) it would be fun to watch it again.
    BTW, have you seen the Game of Thrones series? I don’t think you have and wondered if you planned on it since the hype is starting for the last season coming out on April 15.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I watched one episode, something about an ‘Ice Wall’, and Peter Dinklage was in it. I liked him in the film ‘The Station Agent’. GOT is on satellite here, so I don’t have access to it. The episode I watched was a ‘teaser’.
      I don’t hate Nigel Terry in everything, but I thought he was a lame choice in ‘Excalibur’. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete. x


  4. This is one of my all time favourite films, also my introduction to Carmina Burana and Wagner as well – and for me, Wagner is best borrowed rather than having to sit through a whole opera! Unlike your vivid memories I cannot for the life of me remember where I saw it; looking at the year, this was in the middle of the staying home having babies years. I can only assume we saw it on television, but it surely deserved the big screen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was great at the cinema, with a good sound system. I went expecting it to be the usual ‘King Arthur Stuff’, and was blown away by the visuals, the music, and the great cast. One I have never forgotten, that’s for sure. πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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