King Arthur is a 2004 film directed by Antoine Fuqua, written by David Franzoni, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and released by Touchstone Pictures. It stars Clive Owen as the title character, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, and Keira Knightley as Guinevere.A reluctant leader, Arthur wishes only to leave Britain and return to the peace and stability of Rome. Before he can head for Rome, one final mission leads him and his Knights of the Round Table, Lancelot, Galahad, Bors, Tristan, Dagonet and Gawain to the conclusion that when Rome is gone, Britain needs a king—someone not only to defend against the current threat of invading Saxons, but to lead the isle into a new age. Under the guidance of Merlin, a former enemy, and the beautiful, courageous Guinevere by his side, Arthur will have to find the strength within himself to change the course of history.
This film provides examples of:
All Germans Are Nazis: They seemed to be going for this rather blatantly with the Saxon invaders of Britain, who are proto-Germans at best. King Cerdic stops one of his soldiers from raping a local woman because he argues the mixed offspring would pollute the purity of the Saxon warrior's blood, before killing both the soldier and the woman to set an example. Historically the Saxons and Celtic-Roman Britons actually interbred quite a bit, and Cerdic himself may have been the product of such a union.
It's based on the theory that the "real King Arthur" was a Roman officer named Artorius Castus who may have led cavalry in Britain. The real Artorius in question lived during the 2nd century AD while this is set in 467 AD, and it's not even certain whether he even set foot in Britain. The movie acknowledges the gap by making the current Arthur a descendant of the original Artorius, but it's yet another assumption that his name was passed down in Britain. The real Artorius is buried in Croatia.
The movie combines this theory (sometimes called the "Sarmatian hypothesis" after the troops that Artorius supposedly led, who were from Sarmatia - a region including modern Ukraine, the Balkans and southern Russia) with the "traditional origin" of the Arthurian legend where he leads the British against the Anglo-Saxon invasion. Historically, the British did oppose the Anglo-Saxons under a leader named Ambrosius Aurelianus, who becomes Arthur's uncle Aurelius in the legends.
The exact date of 467 AD causes more problems. The Romans actually left Britain in 410. The real Cerdic and Cynric arrived in Britain around 495. The bishop Germanius was also a real person and he went to Britain twice, the last time being 447. The climactic battle is called the "Battle of Badon Hill". There was a real Battle of Mount Badon, where the British defeated the Saxons (and legend says the British were led by Arthur), but it's dated to between 490 to 516.
Cerdic and Cynric did not die in the real battle of Badon, and may not even have participated since there was more than one group of Anglo-Saxons expanding in Britain.
While Pelagius was indeed a British cleric who was branded a heretic he was not executed, only exiled. His teaching was not about political freedom (inspiring the movie's Arthur that all men are free and equal, hence the Round Table) but about religious doctrine which we don't need to get into here. Also he died decades before 467 AD.
Anachronism Stew abounds also. Apart from the far-too-early trebuchets, there are also swords held together with screw heads.
The Saxons also use crossbows as their signature weapon. While crossbows already existed during the Roman Empire, they didn't become widespread until centuries later.
Another common anachronism in Arthurian adaptations is the usage of plate armor, despite this film's attempts to ground the legend in history.
While Arthur gets his name rendered into Artorius, the rest of the characters keep the traditional spellings of their names. This is because...
The knights used in the movie are almost all inventions of the Arthurian romances from France and elsewhere with no roots in Welsh mythology and thus relations to possible British history, except Tristan and Gawain who are those guys In Name Only. (Period-appropriate versions of those names would be Drustan and Gwalchmai.) So you have characters who are supposedly Eastern European with French names.
The movie calls the Picts "Woads" for apparently no reason except Rule of Cool.
Fantastic Slur, maybe? Picts are well known, accurately or not, for tattooing themselves with woad.
Cerdic stops a Saxon warrior from raping a woman because he claims it would dilute their "pure German blood". As genetic studies show, the British and the Anglo-Saxons had no problem interbreeding, and this seems to be added in for the sake of Does This Remind You of Anything?. Historians note Cerdic's own name is Celtic, not Germanic, which may suggest he himself had mixed heritage.
Ascended Extra: Dagonet. He was normally portrayed on the Arthurian mythos as a buffoon and a coward. He's quite obscure in the mythos itself with its Loads and Loads of Characters. Few nowadays outside of scholars would have heard of his name if not for the movie.
Broken Pedestal: Rome to Arthur when he learns Pelagius has been branded a heretic and executed
Combat Aestheticist: Tristan. In the opening battle, his kill count via swordplay isn't as high as the rest of the knights, but his execution doesn't leave him a bloody mess, out of breathe, and his slashes and stabs are clean and smooth. Tristan's sword and bow are uniquely far-eastern (Tibetian?) as well.
Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Saxon King Cerdic is a violent Blood Knight who invades Britain mainly for a campaign of Rape, Pillage, and Burn, but he does seem to care for his son and second-in-command Cynric. He threatens to cut his son's tongue out if he openly defies his authority again, but he seems quite willing to die by his hands if his son were strong enough to overthrow him. Later he refuses to kill Cynric for a defeat against Arthur's forces when Cynric offers his life, and when he sends in the last of Cynric's auxiliaries into an obvious death trap during the final battle he keeps him by his side to keep him from harm.
Fingore: In one scene Arthur has to fix Guinevere's dislocated fingers.
Historical Villain Upgrade: Bishop Germanius, who is actually a saint, and the Saxon chiefs Cerdic and Cynric. Cerdic was the leader of the West Saxons and is considered the founder of the English kingdom of Wessex.
I Have No Son: Played with. Cerdic disowns his son for his failure. But still keeps him back when sending in the remains of his troops into an obvious trap.
Arthur: I came to see your face so that I alone may find you on the battlefield. And it will be good of you to mark my face, Saxon, for the next time you see it, it will be the last thing you see on this earth.
Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The knights are supposedly Sarmatian; the Sarmatians were from southern Europe. They all seemed to pretty much go for nondescript English accents, with the exception of Mads Mikkelsen (Danish), who plays Tristan, and never sounds anything BUT Danish.
Sacrificial Lion: Dagonet. It's the first on-screen indicator that not all the knights will survive till the end.
Suspiciously Small Army: Arthur holds an entire fort with a mighty force of six men. Fortunately they get backup later on.
This Means Warpaint: The Woads wear blue face and body paint (woad) in battle, a practice they take their name from.
You Have Failed Me: Subverted. Cynric fails his mission to capture the patrician Roman family that Arthur is transporting back to the south. His father King Cerdic notes that they have lost the enemy's respect and Cynric offers his life in return. Cerdic instead demotes his son and gives him a Mark of Shame by giving him a small scar on his cheek.