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Film / First Knight

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Arthurian Love Triangle : The Poster.

A 1995 film that reinterprets the Arthurian Legend, written by William Nicholson (Wind on Fire) and directed by Jerry Zucker. The music score is by Jerry Goldsmith.

King Arthur (Sean Connery) has spent his entire life bringing justice to the land and wants more than anything else to marry Guinevere and enjoy a peaceful retirement. Despite genuinely caring for him, Guinevere (Julia Ormond) feels it to be her duty to marry him, and it's clear that she has a problem with letting obligation make her decisions for her, instead of her heart. Lancelot (Richard Gere) is a wandering swordsman, making as few ties as possible because his family and village were destroyed in the wars.

When these three collide, will they save Camelot from its latest threat or doom it?

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Backstory Change: A major one for Lancelot. In the legends he was the son of King Ban of Benwick and was raised by the Lady of the Lake. Here his parents were random peasants killed in an attack on his village.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • Sir Agravaine is a good guy here, the most prominent of the other Round Table knights.
    • Averted with Lancelot, who was the most famous example of chivalry in European literature, but in the film is depicted as a wandering warrior without armor or any majestic purpose in life.
  • Adaptational Protagonist: The titular "first knight" is Lancelot (played by Richard Gere). The film does away with the magical elements of the Arthurian mythos (e.g., Morgan Le Fay, Merlin, Lady of the Lake), and establishes Camelot as a medieval kingdom ruled by a fair King Arthur. The story, however, focus on the infamous Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle, by placing Lancelot on the spotlight. The film is his journey, and, at the ending, a dying Arthur passes on the crown and the kingdom to him, and allows Guinevere to be with him. In the original Arthuriana, Lancelot is a character inserted into the Arthurian mythos by the French wing of medieval authors.
  • Adapted Out: Usual Arthurian villains Mordred and Morgan le Fay. The villain Prince Malagant is derived from Chrétien de Troyes' Maleagant.
  • Age-Gap Romance:
    • King Arthur is visibly older than Guinevere, old enough to look like her father, and was indeed a friend of her late father. In real life, Sean Connery (Arthur) was 35 years older than Julia Ormond (Guinevere).
    • Richard Gere (Lancelot) is 15 years older than Julia Ormond (Guinevere) in real life, but it's downplayed in the movie since it treats their characters as being around the same age, and Lancelot's still much younger than Arthur (Gere is 19 years younger than Connery).
  • Age Lift: King Arthur is a lot older than Guinevere and Lancelot when they are all usually portrayed as around the same age.
  • Arrows on Fire: King Arthur's troops make use of these. Interestingly, the arrows appeared to use something like magnesium as the flammable agent, which, at least, looked cool. Unlike many examples it's fully justified as part of a trap, having previously baited the enemy into a very dry field of grass.
    • Definitely magnesium as I was an extra in that scene. They were linked with fishing wire which was set off simultaneously. No in universe explanation was given for this.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted. Malagant's mini-crossbows are quite fatal.
  • Big Bad: Prince Malagant, once one of the best Knights of the Round Table who seeks to take Camelot for himself.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Arthur and Guinevere after she's rescued from Malagant and just before he dies and Lancelot and Guinevere as he prepares to leave Camelot.
  • Big "NO!": Lancelot when he sees the barricaded church and fears the inhabitants have been murdered, Guinevere as Arthur is fatally wounded during the battle with Malagant.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Arthur dies, but not before forgiving Lancelot and Guinevere and giving them his blessing, knowing that she and Camelot will be safe in his care.
  • Blatant Lies: Guinevere tells Lancelot, "I don't love you", while trying so hard to avoid making eye contact with him that she practically turns her back to him.
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: Several of Malagant's men carry hand crossbows that they fire before charging. They hit and kill someone with every shot, too.
  • Broken Aesop: Although the film clearly stands on the side of Lancelot in his love of the married queen, it does not work, since Sean Connery was a much more popular actor, and most of the audience was more sympathetic to him.
  • Broken Pedestal: The young man who befriends Lancelot, given the disgusted and angry look on his face during his public trial for treason. Arthur also, citing how he loved Lancelot like a son and was infinitely grateful to him for saving Guinevere's life, only to have it turn out he was pursuing her.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Guinevere spends the entire film resisting her attraction to Lancelot. The moment she gives in to give him a passionate goodbye kiss, assuming that she'll never see him again, Arthur walks in on them and everything falls apart—they're arrested and tried for treason, Malagant stages an invasion, and Arthur is killed.
  • Caught in the Rain: Lancelot and Guinevere, after he rescues her from Malagant.
  • Character Development: Lancelot, as cited below. Goes from being a devil-may-care drifter to someone willing to give up the woman he loves rather than destroy her marriage in order to have her, then willing to give his life for her several times (rescuing her from kidnappers, taking the full blame for their betrayal of Arthur).
  • Chekhov's Skill: Lancelot's Blade Spam-and-disarm technique shown at the start of the film is seen again in the final battle. Though he grabbed Arthur's own sword the second time, so it might seem magical when it's really this trope.
  • Damsel Fight-and-Flight Response: Though she's captured eventually both times, Lady Guinevere puts up a hell of a fight both times she's kidnapped, even leaving something for her rescuers to find and track her.
  • Damsel in Distress: Guinevere, pretty much for the entirety of the film.
  • Death by Irony: Malagant covets Arthur's throne and dies sitting on it.
  • Death Course: Lancelot runs through a gauntlet (without the provided protective gear) to win a kiss from Guinevere. In fact he probably beat it because of the lack of gear; it's incredibly bulky and limits mobility.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Arthur dies in the end, leaving Guinevere and Lancelot free to be together.
  • Demythification: While it's still very much a medieval-style fantasy and no real-world places are ever mentioned, there is no Merlin, Morgan le Fay or any other magic elements from the legends. Arthur's sword, while shiny, is not said to be "Excalibur".
  • Dies Wide Open: Malagant and Arthur.
    • Subverted: Malagant's eyes close at the moment of death.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Malagant ripping off Guinevere's dress. He doesn't rape her—only seconds earlier, he was blasting one of his men for her disheveled state, saying, "I gave orders the lady was not to be harmed!"—but he clearly wants to degrade her and put the fear of that possibility into her.
  • The Dragon: Ralf is Malagant's most prominent henchman and gives orders whenever Malagant isn't around, such as to burn down a barn full of villagers. At the end, he is among the henchmen who shoot and kill Arthur.
  • The Dung Ages: Averted with Camelot which is shown to be a peaceful, prosperous, and beautiful city ruled by a kind and wise king.
  • Evil Counterpart: Malagant to Lancelot. Both are established as powerful fighters in their own right and evenly matched. However Lancelot learns to help others before himself while Malagant believes in the strongest ruling.
  • Eye Contact as Proof: Lancelot tells Guinevere he'll leave Camelot if she tells him she doesn't love him. Guinevere looks away from him (until then she was looking him in the eye) and tells him she doesn't love him. When she finally does make eye contact again, she looks as though she is about to cry and walks away. Lancelot doesn't leave.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: When Arthur proposes to make Lancelot a knight of the Round Table, the other knights are suspicious of him because he's a vagabond. They start respecting him after he proves himself in battle.
  • Freudian Excuse: Lancelot reveals that his parents were killed in a village attack, thus explaining (a) his Berserk Button-like reaction to such incidents, and (b) his devil-may-care attitude towards life—he's afraid to lose anyone he cares about, so he doesn't permit himself to care about anyone in the first place.
  • Give Me a Sword: From one of Arthur's knights to another during the final melee.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors:
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Helmets are only widely worn in the penultimate battle scene, otherwise nobody does. After being knighted, Lancelot gets a helmet for that battle, but takes it off. Arthur and Malagant never wear helmets.
  • Heroic BSoD: Arthur after walking in on Lancelot and Guinevere kissing, which gets kicked up to eleven when he forces her to admit that she loves him. See My God, What Have I Done?, about the moment Arthur becomes aware he made a mistake to try Guinevere and Lancelot publicly. Even if it is only for a few seconds, he seems quite lost.
  • The High Middle Ages
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Arthur insists on trying Guinevere and Lancelot in public and inviting the entire city, leaving himself vulnerable to Malagant's invasion. On the other hand, Malagant relishes the chance to humiliate Arthur in front of the entire kingdom, only to have to contend with the infuriated populace when Arthur rallies them to fight back.
    • Ralf, Malagant's main henchman, is stabbed to death with his own sword during the Final Battle.
  • Honor Before Reason: After catching Lancelot and Guinevere in an embrace, Arthur bluntly declares, "As a man, I may forgive. As a king. . .", then declares that the two will be tried for treason, in public, lest the people think that he is showing favoritism or leniency that he would never have extended to anyone else, though one can't help but wonder if he also wants to publicly humiliate them for their betrayal.
  • Hypocrite: Downplayed. Arthur says that the round table has no head nor foot, but he takes action against the advice of the knights because, well, he is the king. He makes Lancelot a knight, and later he has Lancelot and Guinevere face a public trial. Both actions end up working against him, becoming Laser-Guided Karma.
  • I Gave My Word: Her exact words as Guinevere tells Lancelot that she already promised to marry Arthur.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Rare heroic example; as Arthur gets down on one knee, he commands his fight!
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Arthur offers to release Guinevere from their engagement, telling her that he will protect her kingdom regardless. She refuses and reaffirms her love for him. Later, Lancelot decides to stop pursuing Guinevere and leave Camelot so as not to undermine it or her marriage.
  • Inexplicably Awesome: Lancelot is such a good fighter that he even manages to impress the legendary Knights of the Round Table, yet considering his background as an orphaned wanderer it's never mentioned where he obtained a sword or how he learned to fight so well.
  • Kneel Before Zod: Malagant demands that Arthur kneel before him. Arthur does so, only to rise and order his people to fight to the end.
  • Limited Advancement Opportunities: Apparently the round table doesn't promote from within; Lancelot gets the top spot for no other reason than it's the only opening they have for a new knight, despite the others having served for decades.
  • Love at First Sight: Guinevere has this reaction to Lancelot.
  • Love Triangle: As Guinevere assures Arthur, "I may look on you differently (than Lancelot), but not with less love."
  • Match Cut: When Arthur discovers Guinevere's affair with Lancelot, the scene ends with Arthur's left eye dissolving into the fire of the next scene.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: King Arthur's sword, which is never explicitly said to be Excalibur. During the battle at the climax Lancelot and Malagant are clearly on par, which is justified being Malagant the former Arthur's First Knight; Malagant manages to gain the upper hand, even; he has disarmed Lancelot and is about to kill him, when Lancelot sees Arthur's sword, which shines suspiciously; Lancelot grabs the sword and manages to easily overcome Malagant with a Blade Spam (which, on the other hand, was a technique Lancelot used before), killing an astonished Malagant. Did the sword play a part on it? Was it magical? We will never know.
  • May–December Romance: Arthur is 35 years older than Guinevere, though such age differences were probably quite common in those days.
  • Meaningful Echo: Lancelot kisses Guinevere after rescuing her and swears that before she's married, she'll ask him to kiss her again. She doesn't before her wedding, but as he prepares to leave Camelot, states, "I'm asking you", essentially telling him that she returns his feelings.
    • The scar on Arthur's hand. As he and Guinevere discuss the injury (a hunting accident), it becomes obvious that this is the moment they fell in love. At his funeral, just before his body is set adrift, she kisses it, bidding him farewell.
    • In that same scene, Arthur talks about feeling "the sunlight across his face", representing true love. Just before he dies, he tells her that he feels it, letting her know that he forgives her and believes that she does love him.
  • Meaningful Name: The villain is named Prince Malagant. It's hard not to notice how similar that is to the word "malignant".
    • Although to be fair, "Maleagant" has appeared in Arthurian legend since the late 12th century.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: During the final public trial, Arthur understands he shouldn't have requested it, after Lancelot explains that he is ready for sacrifice, for the sake of Camelot and his King :
    Arthur: May God forgive me.
  • Nice to the Waiter: At the beginning of the film, as Guinevere greets the villagers routed from their homes during an attack, she refuses their attempt at kneeling to her in deference, citing the terrible ordeal they've been through. Later, during the first attempt at kidnapping her, she urges her maids to leave her behind, knowing that it's her the attackers want and not wanting to place them in danger. When she's rescued, her first query is as to their safety.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Should go without saying for Sean Connery, but this totally applies to Richard Gere.
  • One Last Kiss: Guinevere and Lancelot before he leaves Camelot (or it was intended to be before they got caught), then Guinevere and Arthur before he dies.
  • The Paragon Always Rebels: Malagant was said to have been the greatest of Arthur's knights before he rebelled against him.
  • Plummet Perspective: When the evil knight Malagant imprisons Guinevere above the oubliette, he tosses a torch in to hint at her fate should she try to escape. The light of the torch disappears into the gloom... but we never hear it hit the ground.
  • Recycled Trailer Music: The theatrical trailer uses "Riders of Doom" from Conan the Barbarian (1982).
  • Rejection Affection: Guinevere repeatedly rebuffs Lancelot's advances, which he dismisses... only for her to finally admit to her feelings just as he's preparing to leave.
  • Rescue Romance: Guinevere is clearly attracted to Lancelot the moment he first rescues her from would-be kidnappers. Him saving her the second time pretty much seals the deal on her feelings for him.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Lancelot and Guinevere after he saves her for a second time.
  • Sky Cell: As Guinevere is led across a hanging bridge to a small ledge over a bottomless pit...
    Maligant: This is called an oubliette. That's French for "a place of forgetting." Your quarters, My Lady. No gates, no bars, no locks. Just walls of air.
  • Slashed Throat: How Malagant goes out.
  • The Social Darwinist: Malagant constantly gives speeches about how "the strong rule the weak".
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Although in this film King Arthur dies even earlier than in the original novels, Lancelot eventually remains alive and gets his happy ending with Guinevere.
    • Camelot itself could count. In many versions of the Arthurian legend, the kingdom falls into ruins as result of the affair. This film implies that Camelot will continue to thrive under Guinevere and Lancelot's rule.
  • Standard Hero Reward: The end has the mortally wounded King Arthur inexplicably hand over the royal sword and rulership of Camelot to Sir Lancelot who, before then, was a roving entertainer who fought people in town squares for money (Truth in Television by the way; in the middle ages entertainer was considered one of the lowest professions, no better than prostitutes or beggars). Earlier on, Arthur had knighted Lancelot for rescuing Guinevere over Lancelot's (and the Round Table Knights') protestations. So he gives his Kingdom (and his soon-to-be widow) over to somebody who he barely knows, who had fallen in love with his wife, and who has no desire or ability to rule.
    • As the film progresses, we see Lancelot's development. Towards the end, after a major battle, he decides to leave Camelot because he finally understands what it means and does not wish to destroy it by continuing to pursue Arthur's wife. Additionally, his insistence on taking the blame and willingness to sacrifice himself for Guinevere's sake demonstrates to Arthur how much he genuinely loves and respects all three, despite his previous actions.
  • Stock Scream: A couple Wilhelm screams are heard during the final battle as some of Malagant's henchmen are thrown to their deaths.
  • Take Up My Sword: As Arthur is mortally wounded, he drops his sword. Lancelot uses it to defeat Malagant at the climax of the final battle. Later Arthur does pass on his sword, Camelot and Guinevere to Lancelot.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: Malagant lowers a bridge, marches Guinevere over to a ledge, then raises the bridge, trapping her within "walls of air."
  • Trail of Bread Crumbs: Guinevere leaves a strip of cloth from her dress as a clue for Lancelot to follow.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Arthur asks Guinevere "Have you... given yourself to him?" regarding Lancelot. This was probably the term used in those days, but the long pause makes it seem as though he's using the words to substitute for something else.
  • Viking Funeral: Given to Arthur at the end, but his body is first set adrift as a nod to the traditional legend.
  • We Have Reserves: Malagant sacrifices a wave of soldiers just so Guinevere's guards are out of position when the second wave hits. Sir Agravaine is shocked and disturbed by the fact the second wave could just stand there and watch them die.
    • And when Malagant's army is defeated by King Arthur's forces in a setpiece battle, he still has more then enough men to take Camelot itself with even the civilian population being nearly equaled in number.
  • White Stallion: Guinevere, Lady of Leonesse and Queen of Camelot, is the only rider whose horse is white.
  • Wife Husbandry: Arthur and Guinevere. It's mentioned that he was a friend of her father's, which means he had to have known her since she was a child—and the way she talks about him makes it clear that she's loved him since then.