I have watched this film three times now: once in the cinema, then once on DVD because I intended to write a review that in the end never materialised, and once more last week because I was reading an excellent Arthurian novel with a historical approach and I wanted to compare it to the film. On neither of these three occasions I was impressed.
King Arthur, a Jerry Bruckheimer vehicle, promises to delve into the historical origins of Arthurian legend. Its claims are that Arthur was a Romano-British military commander and that the Knights of the Round Table were Sarmatian auxiliaries.
So far, so good: the origins of Arthur are usually situated around the retreat of Rome from Britain, and knightly warfare did actually borrow quite a bit from the Sarmatian and Scythian way of fighting with lances on horseback, a technique Gaulish and German cavalry did not practise.
The essence of the plot is not so bad either. Arthur, son of a Roman father and a British mother, dreams of Rome, a city he idealises as civilised, tolerant, just and peaceful. His retreat as an army commander is imminent and he looks forward to leaving Britain behind. As the action unfurls, however, Arthur learns that Rome is not at all what he imagines it to be. It has burnt his beloved teacher Pelagius as a heretic. It has been torturing indigenous Britons in the name of the True Faith. It treats non-Romans like slaves. And it demands absolute service without giving anything in return.
As Arthur is rudely awakened from his Roman dream, he learns to appreciate his mother’s country. He chooses the well-being of the Britons over Rome’s orders and decides to start protecting Britons over Roman citizens. Faced with a Saxon invasion, he finally joins forces with the painted people from beyond the wall whom, until then, he has spent his life fighting.
So why does this film not work for me?