First Knight

‘8 Days a Week’, Dawn Tuesday Review, 23-29 April 1996

The sexiest man of the sixties is back again. As is no longer unusual for him, he is appearing in a supporting role this time. Sean Connery plays an understated King Arthur against Richard Gere’s rash and robust Lancelot in the movie The First Knight.

“This is the story of King Arthur’s times, told from the perspective of  Sir Lancelot,” or so it is claimed on the cover jacket. Whatever else it might be (such as a good  movie), it fails as an Arthurian tale or as having anything to do with Sir Lancelot’s perspective. What we are given in First Knight  is a breathtaking and superbly executed thriller set against mediaeval backdrop.

Homeless vagabond (which is quite close to the Arthurian leg­ends: but he is also shown as a character who does not reveal any of the mediaeval mannerisms which is not quite so close to the original classic). The mediaeval ethos of a soci­ety with fixed class structure is given only in the passing – in Lady Guinevere’s concern for the downtrodden. Some of the wheels-within-wheels technology shown to give a sense of the times are plausible historically but they fail to bring out the courtly love and gallantry.

One may notice the attempt to forge some relevance between the classic romance and certain issues in our own times. We are reminded of certain international controversies of the ‘New World Order’ when old King Arthur insists on extending his protection to the lands beyond his own kingdom, Camelot, and refuses the allegation that this is another attempt of enforcing Camelot’s law on minor states. “Either what we hold to be right and true and good is right and true and good for all mankind under God or we are just another robber tribe,” says Sean Connery with his native rounded Scottish accent let loose at last. Similarly, we think that the British audience must have been reminded of some newspaper stories watching the royal Guinevere in a compromising situation with her lover Lancelot, surprised by a sudden discovery of their no-harm-intended kiss­ing.

It must be admitted, however, that the film is quite a sensation on several accounts. Lush photography and an enthralling musical score, top-notch casting and the marvelously executed thrill sequences in the film all make it an absolute must-see for those who love to be thrilled in good taste. For those who insist on literary authenticity, with a bold re-working of the mythical elements that have fascinated readers through the centuries, John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) is still the best option on the screen.

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