Directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgard, Stephen Dillane, Ioan Gruffudd and Ray Winstone.
This year's version of the King Arthur legend has, as might be expected, a round table, plenty of swashbuckling and a broodingly handsome Arthur in the form of Clive Owen, but it deviates abruptly from the myth by casting Keira Knightley as a fearsome Guinevere who wears little more than a few well-placed belts as she leads her people into battle.
This is just one of the many differences in Antoine Fuqua's revisionist 'King Arthur', which claims to be "the true story that inspired the legend". But, while this grimy, rain-soaked film successfully manages to remove any magic and glamour from the story, it cannot realistically be credited with shedding any more light on the real man than 'Excalibur', 'First Knight' or even 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.
The half-Briton, half-Roman Arthur leads a ragged band of foreign conscripts - the Knights of the Round Table - who are required to serve the Empire for 15 years. Stationed at Hadrian's Wall, they fight occasional battles with the native Woads who are led by the magician Merlin (Dillane). About to be demobbed, the Knights are asked to do one last dangerous mission beyond the Wall. It's no Holy Grail quest but they do get to battle an army of Saxon invaders (led by a slumming Skarsgard, who spends the whole film mumbling into his artificial beard) and rescue the captive Woad Guinevere. She's more feral cat (albeit with perfectly clipped British accent) than shrinking violet, as capable of standing alongside the knights in battle as she is at seducing Arthur the night beforehand.
It's all wildly implausible, even dressed up in a dirty cloak of supposed myth-busting truth. The Knights are portrayed as filthy, unshaven mercenaries for Rome - far from the age of chivalry - and the heartbreaking love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot (Gruffudd) that informed earlier films is relegated to just a couple of longing looks. Fuqua's one masterstroke is to place the comradeship of the men at the heart of 'King Arthur', and the band of Knights are portrayed as an intensely loyal, lusty bunch with Winstone standing out as the joker in the pack.
For all Winstone's off-colour jokes, 'King Arthur' is a fairly dreary film. Grey skies, dark clouds, rain and snow may satisfy the director's idea of realism but they do nothing to lighten the overall air of darkness. Owen looks appropriately dangerous in the title role but, for all Knightley's prominence on the poster, she doesn't appear in the story until almost an hour into proceedings. Audiences here will enjoy playing name-that-actor as many familiar Irish faces, including the versatile Dawn Bradfield and Pat Kinevane, pop up throughout. There are also plenty of fighting scenes for the action fanatics, including an original and spectacular ice battle.
If it's swords and Keira Knightley you're looking for, they're all here. A tale of the real Arthur, however, may be a while off yet. Solid but not inspiring.