Excalibur (1981) – Fantasizing About Fantasy Films
August 9, 2021 by: Chris Bumbray
In 1981, John Boorman released his passion project, EXCALIBUR. A bold, very adult, serious take on the Arthurian legend, the film was a modest financial success, grossing $34 million domestically. However, to many, it stands at the definitive story of King Arthur, and indeed Boorman’s film is an ambitious classic.
The film had its genesis in Boorman’s abandoned hope to turn Lord of the Rings into a movie in the late sixties. That project never worked out, so Boorman pivoted to telling the definitive King Arthur story. Easier said than done. At the time, King Arthur and his knights’ story was either done as swashbucklers and family-friendly epics, such as the musical Camelot. This would NOT be family-friendly or be swashbuckling. Taking its cues from Thomas Malory’s 15th century Le Morte d’Arthur, Boorman convinced the then-nascent Orion Pictures to bankroll his epic.
Indeed, it was a risky proposition. The film would have no stars, using a primarily British/Irish cast, headed by Nigel Terry as Arthur, Cherie Lunghi and Guinevere, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot, and Nicol Williamson as Merlin. Of course, many cast members would later become icons, including Helen Mirren, cast as the villainous Morgana, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, and more.
The film, which boasts a fantastic score by Trevor Jones, which integrates the works of Richard Wagner and Carl Orff, is a classic, and the film has never been beaten as far as the tale of Excalibur and the legendary knights of the round table goes. So join us on Fantasizing About Fantasy Films as we dig into Boorman’s classic.