Forget the mythical Camelot. Forget the soppily romantic and ultimately tragic love triangle of the good king, Arthur, his lovely queen, Guinevere, and his bravest knight, Lancelot. Didn't happen. We don't need them anymore.
David Franzoni's script for the new King Arthur claims to tell 'the untold true story that inspired a legend," and, indeed, it is based on recent archeological findings which indicate a real warrior named Arthur had helped the early Brits beat back the Saxons, those invading barbarians from the north. Which means Arthur must have lived in the early fifth century, more than 500 years before his exploits became the stuff of legend. And that means Arthur and his fabled knights of the round table were probably a much grittier lot, and vastly more down-and-dirty--as people were in the Dark Ages--than in the romanticized incarnations we all know and love. As for Guinevere--well, there are no flowing gowns and dainty lute-playing for the ballsy babe seen in this new version. She even goes into battle wearing only a few bandeaus around her top, middle and arms--with her long hair flying (which looks pretty ridiculous when she's fighting alongside helmeted and fully armored knights).
These new heroes--and heroine--are still represented as hot and hunky, thank goodness. (Yes, even Guinevere is a hunk.) Clive Owen--eyes steady and stern jaw fixed--plays Lucius Artorius Castus, the Romano-British knight/commander who decided to stay in Britain to become one of its earliest kings. Ioan Gruffudd is the dreamily reflective Lancelot, a descendant of the vanquished Samartians of Eastern Europe, and the bravest of Arthur's 'knights.' And the lovely Keira Knightly plays gorgeous Guinevere, a native Briton who fiercely defends her island homeland.
These three don't have to face their enemies alone. Arthur's band of brave knights--who, we're told, were accustomed to sitting at a round table--include the feisty, funny Ray Winstone (retaining his East End accent) as Bors, Hugh Dancy as Gallahad, Joel Edgerton as Gawain, and Mads Mikkelsen as Tristan. Swedish actor Stellan Skarsg‰rd personifies barbarian evil as Cerdic, leader of the marauding Saxons.
The film's plot essentially follows the formula for this kind of sprawling, action-filled costume epic. Arthur and his knights are about to be mustered out of the Roman army to go their separate ways when they receive orders to ride north, beyond Hadrian's Wall, to rescue a Roman nobleman (Ken Stott) from the approaching Saxons. It is here that they find an imprisoned Guinevere, who, practically overnight, recovers from weeks of torture to brilliantly and lethally employ her bow and arrow in the knights' first skirmish with the Saxons. And what a smashing breakthrough that battle becomes--literally--when the bad guys are lured onto the too-thin ice covering a deep and very cold lake.
As noted, there's enough action in King Arthur to take the thrill-addicted moviegoers of summer to a new high. The big plus is that they may learn a little something about ancient history along the way.