Dir: John Boorman
Star: Nigel Terry, Nicol Williamson, Cherie Lunghi, Nicholas Clay, Helen Mirren
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 1981
Format: DVD R2

The Dark Ages
The Land was divided and without a King.
Out of those lost centuries rose a legend..... of the sorceror, Merlin, of the coming of a King and the Sword of Power....... Excalibur

In case you hadn't already gathered. Excalibur is another retelling of the legend of King Arthur and the Round Table, Camelot, Merlin and of course the sword Excalibur. Unlike many of the "adaptations" of one of England's most prominent legends this manages to stick to much of the source material which is flavoured to a degree by being an adaptation of Sir Thomas Mallory's classic novel "Le Morte D'Arthur". This is an epic tale from British mythology firmly steeped in magic, Excalibur tells the story of the life of King Arthur (Nigel Terry) beginning with his conception and birth and the fabled "Grail quest" culminating with his dramatic and climactic battle against his evil and illegitimate son, Mordred.

The fact that this film was made back in 1981 is evident as some of the effects do look a little dated but are nontheless unobtrusive and very well used. The graphic and occasionally brutal swordplay is well set out and choreographed and far from ruling the piece it is nicely balanced by the mythological and magical aspect to the story. John Boorman offers a beautifully photographed and marvellously directed movie that is visually lavish and stunning. Immersing itself deeply into dark age mysticism the film offers an almost alien atmosphere at times but this works in its favour resulting in a captivating film. Some superb and grand set designs afford a sumptuous backdrop. The costumes courtesy of Bob Ringwood are marvellous but the very impressive armour designed by Terry English is simply amazing.

A fantastic cast provide some excellent performances, the late Nicholas Clay was born to play Lancelot and his haunting performance is one that is likely to stay with you. Equally memorable is the eccentric and occasionally hilariously camp performance of Merlin by the superb Nicol Williamson who I have to admit is scene stealingly fabulous as he romps away in possibly the best character adaptation of Merlin I have seen and holds the movie superbly together. The sultry Helen Mirren evocatively oozes her performance of Morgana combining a distinctly sinister and sexy prescence. Nigel Terry shows his inexperience but nonetheless provides a good lead portrayal as King Arthur. He is no Lawrence Olivier but he is in keeping with the "boy king" emphasis of the story. The elfin Cherie Lunghi provides an occasionally tedious performance as her teriibly false accent grates horrendously but she is on the whole quite enchanting as Guenivere. Amongst the notable cast members are some early performances by Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson and Gabriel Byrne provides one of his better performances as the proud King Uther. John Boorman slips some of his family into the film, most prominently Katrine Boorman plays Arthurs mother Igrayne whilst her sister Telsche Boorman waxes fishy as the Lady of the Lake.

The soundtrack by Trevor Jones breathes some new life into and also uses to great effect two classical music motifs in order to convey some grim weightiness and promote a truly dramatic and heroic feel. The hair raising tones of the "Tannhauser Overture" by Wagner wash over you whilst the stirring "O' Fortuna" taken from Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana" is a truly rousing piece (some may remember it from the "Old Spice" advertisements) which fits exceptionally well with the imagery of King Arthur and his knights charging off into battle through the countryside. The enchanting combination of imagery and sound is captivating and exhibits some real power seldom found in "modern cinema". Boorman's direction is almost flawless and the pacing is excellent combined with some superb atmosphere and cinematography (for which it received an Academy Award nomination).

The early eighties did of course sire a whole flurry of sword and sorcery movies but Excalibur is a credit to the genre and is one of the better offerings. Boorman's vision created in Excalibur is both powerful and stirring and makes this one of his best films.


Arthur: "Are you just a dream, Merlin?"
Merlin: "A Dream.... to some...... a nightmare to others!"

Rating: 4 out of 5

Picture 1.85:1 Widescreen sharp but occasionally grainy
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 Great soundtrack
Features Dull static menu
Verdict Impressive presentation of the film expecially with a Dolby soundtrack but the serious lack of extras is very dissappointing.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home