Sound Off! King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. This time, reclaim your birthright and discuss King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, which premiered in the United States on Friday, May 12, 2017.

Sound Off! is meant to be a reaction, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places: you may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching.

Now, join J.L. Gribble as she talks about King Arthur: Legend of the Sword! [Note: No spoilers in the first section, but significant spoilers after the row of posters!]


J.L.: So, Guy Ritchie made me a King Arthur movie.

Anyone familiar with Guy Ritchie’s movies already pretty much knows what to expect: clever dialogue and pacing, quick cuts back and forth between conversation and action, gorgeous music, etc. There’s no question that the man knows how to make a film that’s both stunning and enjoyable, a fun ride filled with gorgeous actors, beautiful set pieces, snarky dialogue, moments that are just heartbreaking enough, and intricate combat scenes.

But did that work for an Arthurian legend story?

I kind of got the feeling that Ritchie really wanted to make a fantasy epic, but thought he had to dress it up in the familiar trappings of Arthurian legend in order to ensure interest and funding. Other than familiar character names and the “sword in the stone” motif, this movie has very, very little to do with Arthurian legend to those familiar with the actual literary history of the tales (and I’m a big nerd, so I am). I thoroughly enjoyed these representations of Percival, Tristan, and Bedivere, and Jude Law as Vortigern was a tremendous villain. But these were not the Knights of the Round Table and the tales I was familiar with.

And let’s not get into the historical inaccuracies, mostly because it’s incredibly silly to quibble about things like dress, armor, and spyglasses in a movie with blatant magic use and giant demon elephants.

But in the end, I didn’t care about all of that. Because this movie was fun. The character interaction was fantastic, the visuals were engrossing, and there were more hot men than I could shake a sword at. (Also, Aiden Gillen, familiar as Game of Throne‘s Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, steals the show.) Watching this movie as a purely fantasy epic that just happens to have some familiar trappings reminded me of everything I love about both fantasy epics, especially the sense of adventure and imagination that Arthurian legend gives me. Weirdly enough, despite how little it has to do with the legend I’m familiar with, this might still be my new favorite King Arthur movie. It’s definitely one of my new favorite fantasy movies.

So that was all the good.

But we need to talk about the bad.

WARNING! Significant spoilers below.

So, did you notice how every character I mentioned above was a male name?

Don’t get me wrong, there are female characters in this movie. But with the exception of “The Mage” (yeah, she doesn’t even get a name), they all die. Every single one. What’s even worse is how they die: each one is actively murdered by a male character in the film so that their deaths serve to further the narrative of another male character. This is called fridging, and is a common and problematic trope in storytelling.

Whether it’s Arthur’s mother dying to goad his father into a fight, Vortigern killing first his wife and then his daughter in order to gain more magical power, or Arthur’s friend Lucy murdered as an example in order to secure his cooperation, each woman dies to further the plot of a male character. They have no plots of their own.

Even worse is that the female character who doesn’t die also does not have a plot (or even much agency) of her own. The Mage is there as a plot device to use occasional magic and help Arthur along his own path.

As much as there is to like about this movie, this is not okay. This is not okay in any modern film, and shows that blockbuster movies still have far to go in areas of female representation and character development.

This film was still enjoyable and worth watching for fantasy lovers and Arthurian legend geeks alike. It’s just a shame that I have to make that recommendation with such a giant caveat.

3 Comments

  • Shara White May 16, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    What are your other favorite Arthurian retellings in film or television? I have a soft spot for the 2004 King Arthur featuring Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. And there’s also the adaptation of Mists of Avalon, a mini-series I still own but I still haven’t finished that beast of a book!

    Reply
    • steelvictory May 17, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Well, definitely not Mists of Avalon, which is a problematic book with an even more problematic author. :-/ I’m partial to the entire T.S. White series, which was the inspiration for Disney’s Sword in the Stone (also a favorite).

      Reply
      • Shara White May 17, 2017 at 3:51 pm

        I watched the mini-series a very, VERY long time I heard about the problems with the author. I don’t remember having issues with the television adaptation, but I hadn’t read the book, and I saw it, well, a VERY long time ago.

        Reply

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