CHRIS: Excalibur (Boorman, UK, 1981)


If you would have asked me 30 years ago, “name your favourite film, go on, what is it?”. I would have snapped back the prompt response: “Excalibur. Its brilliant.”

John Boorman managed to gather an ensemble of the best of Shakespearean actors of the generation, combined with lavish art direction to recreate the majesty of Camelot from Mallory’s version of the Arthurian legend. I remember reading a feature in Starburst and I was instantly transfixed and worked hard to scheme a way of getting into the cinema as I was too young for the AA rating. I managed to get past the rigours of the vetting processes by remembering my age, as if I had been a year older, and was allowed into the cinema to see the naked breasts of Helen Mirren.

From the beginning to the end I was transfixed by the magic of it all. It looked like nothing I have ever seen before. It appeared incredibly adult. Gory, hack and slay violence left my mouth open in astonishment. Merlin was the best depiction of a magic user in cinema history. The performances were convincing, with a sense of authenticity.

Watching it now. I feel a sense of shame for my 13 year old self. What on earth did I see in it? The aesthetics of the cinematography have rendered the film into a glorified advert for Timotei, with soft focus lighting and dewy-eyed mist. The fight scenes are pure Monty Python.

Boorman was unable to contain the excess of his scenery gorging actors: Nicol Williamson as Merlin sings his lines, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot could be replaced by a plank, while ‘newcomer’ Patrick Stewart pronounces, “We ride at dawn!” Fans of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon will enjoy shouting “On the dot!” in response.

Why have I included it on this list?

It is a film that is an indelible part of my personal history. I don’t want to ever see it again, because I want it to be the film that I saw back in 1981. I want the memory of the film rather than the reality.


8 responses to “CHRIS: Excalibur (Boorman, UK, 1981)

  1. Its been a bit topsy turvy this week with the Friday Fives appearing on Monday and the review on Friday. Normal service will resume next week – complete with the promise of more Dom-Dirk contributions!

  2. “But sire, ’tis a continental breakfast, ’twill only take 20 minutes max.”

    I’ve never seen this film and I always confuse it with Ridley Scott’s ‘Legend’, which I’ve also never seen. There seemed to be a spate of these films in the 80s, maybe because before home computing properly took off there was a large market of Dungeons & Dragons fans sat in their lofts pretending to be goblins. I definitely think you have to be a certain age for them. My fiance kept going on about ‘The Princess Bride’, which I found dull as dishwater when we got round to watching it.

    I like the term “magic user” by the way, makes it sound like he’s got a crack addiction. “He’s off his face on Expelliarmus again”

  3. If you had been sitting in your loft pretending to be a goblin, you would be familiar with the term Magic User.

    You’re right about there being a spate of films in the early 80s. It was partly D&D, partly the remarketing of The Hobbit, partly the Star Wars boom, and partly hippy producers who had grown up with Conan, Lord of the Rings wanting to make films that they wanted to see.

    I can feel a Friday 5 coming on.

  4. Steven has just reminded me that we convinced them to let us in but only had the money for a child ticket! Someone in the queue helped us to make up the difference. Literally, a school boy error.

  5. Pingback: STARBURST MEMORIES: Excalibur | Dirk Malcolm's World of Film·

  6. Pingback: Dirk’s Five: Extreme Camping | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

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