Excalibur

John Boorman, USA 1981, 140 minutes

This, basically put, is the legend of King Arthur only ever so slightly more detailed and graphic than you might remember.

Opening with a combination of black magic and war we see Merlin transform Uther into a döppelganger of his enemy in order that he might enter his enemy's castle and rape his wife; thus we have the conception of Arthur. The story unfolds from there with the setting up of the round table and the search for the grail but, and Boorman has received much flak for this, the bloodletting is on a quite unparalleled scale and treachery and betrayal make noir seem like an understated label for this film.

Set in the lush green scenery of Ireland this film balances the beautiful setting with the gritty `over-red' story of the Arthurian legend, based on `Morte d'Arthur'. It also seems to be a sort of `stars in the making' as Helen Mirren plays one of the most terrifying witches ever seen. Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson also join the ranks of the round table, bringing yet more pre-star glory to the cast. The real shining performance comes from Nicol Williamson as Merlin, neither good nor bad just menacing.

This is a film you will just have to see if only for the reason that you'll probably never see another like it. If you like your myths a little on the black side though, if you thought the Wicked Witch of the West should have had a better chance of getting Dorothy, if you fancy a very very addictive mix of action, romance and fantasy, then go and see this film. If not then go and see it anyway, it's Freshers Week, it's free for God's sake.

"Excalibur is exquisite, a near perfect blend of action, romance, fantasy, and philosophy" - Variety

Review by Andrew Hesketh
Taken from EUFS Programme 1996-97