Dark Knights

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The weather is always inclement, the protagonists are all muddy when they're not bloody, King Arthur's Christianity is muscular but joyless, and Guinevere is often daubed with blue paint. No, folks, we're not in Camelot anymore. Mostly we're in and around Hadrian's Wall in Britain at the dawn of the Dark Ages, with the Romans in retreat, the Saxons advancing and the severely downsized Knights of the Round Table defending civilization as they know it. Conditions in this world are not visibly much different from barbarism. Life on this frontier is rude and basic, though Guinevere (Keira Knightley) does tidy herself up and slip into something pretty before getting it on with Arthur (Clive Owen). All poor Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) gets, however, is a wistful peek through the window at Guinevere in dishabille and early death on the battlefield.

A title card says this King Arthur, grimly directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day), is based on the latest research into the mythic past. Maybe so. But one can't help thinking the research that really counted was that into the more recent box-office charts. Hmm, look at those grosses for The Lord of the Rings. Must be some other old stuff we could turn into some sort of spectacle. So clang, clang, clang go the broadswords, swish, swish, swish go the flights of arrows, and twitch, twitch, twitch go our bottoms in the seats. There's too much realism, not enough magic in historical romance these days. What these movies really need are cheeky athletes as their heroes, not actors lugubriously acting. They also need villains briskly spewing sardonic menace instead of grunting incomprehensibly. Above all, they need flash, sass and genial trash.