Camelot Gets the Hollywood Treatment
First Knight retells or is it re-sells the classic Camelot story. Sean Connery plays the very likable King Arthur, Julie Ormond is beguiling as Lady Guinevere and Richard Gere plays Lancelot.
So am I being petty here? Honestly I just can’t feel Gere’s version of Lancelot.
The opening scene has Lady Guinevere playing proto-soccer in all her finery. Of course, the princess is a tomboy despite the fact that she’s running her little fiefdom after her father’s death. Ah the incessant messaging.
Soon she’s packed off with her ladies in a carriage to take her to her wedding to King Arthur. They are ambushed by the evil Malagant. Enter Lancelot, who rescues the soon to be queen, and immediately tries to kiss the hottie. No matter that she is a queen. She’s a hottie and he wants her. Sex at first sight.
It’s a not so subtle twist on the idea of the original story where love develops between the two. Lancelot is not a member of the Round Table but is a man with no connections or standing, who earns enough money with his knack at fencing. Can we consider him a medieval drifter?
It is unlikely that there could even be such a character at that time in history. Swords as well as horses were the stuff of the nobility and Gere’s Lancelot is a knave.
Not that this stops him from rescuing the fair maiden once again. This time he tricks his way into the haunted, hideous castle where she is being held by Malagant and they escape down a water chute. Besides providing a photo op for the medieval version of a wet tee-shirt contest, it sets the stage for Lancelot to tell Guinevere his sad tale. Beneath his devil may care veneer lies a broken child. His family were all burnt in the parish church during a raid when he was but a lad.
And that is why he cares not if he lives or dies. This doesn’t really square with the Lancelot who seems more like an opportunist pulling up to the bar in an old Western. He may not care whether he lives or dies but he sure wants Lady Guinevere.
This calculating, cynical, womanizing Lancelot is not saved in my mind by being a victim but you know Hollywood and victims.
King Arthur doesn’t seem the least bit suspicious that Guinevere has spent a night, possibly several days with Lancelot and he is invited to join the Round Table for his act of heroism. It’s almost as though the First Knight got the first night.
The story movies quickly with Lancelot brought to tears at another church burning. Such a sensitive boy! He and she are caught in a passionate embrace by old King Arthur. The trial is set. Malagant shows up to burn down Camelot. King Arthur sacrifices himself to save his people whom he exhorts to save Camelot. Democracy rising in Olde England. It’s so Hollywood.
And most ridiculous of all King Arthur blesses their union on his deathbed. I’m not kidding. In most versions Lancelot was exiled and Guinevere took the veil. But in this version, the old boy has enough decency to shove off and leave his kingdom to those who betrayed him.
And placing Lancelot’s hand firmly on Excalibur, Arthur gives him not only his girl but his kingdom. What gentleman! What a prince!
So it all ends happily. Maybe if Arthur had survived, they could have gone into couples therapy, triangles therapy?
No Merlin, no Morgana, no Mordred, no lady of the Lake, no Uther. They kept it simple. Maybe it was written during the writer’s strike in Hollywood.
To say that Hollywood trivializes emotions would be trite but there it is. You get no sense in the change of emotions or feelings in this particular rendition. You do get lots of action packed war scenes and nifty choreography in the dueling scenes.
The story of Camelot is a tragedy with a Celtic twist. This version has no Merlin and no magic. There is no story of the people who preceded the central characters and set their story on its way. There is no tangle of personalities and the battle for power that is the drama of every good tale. There is not even a convincing love story.
I did like the animal actors. They were very convincing. And I can assure you, no people were hurt during the making of this film. At least nobody’s feelings were hurt.