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Film / King Arthur (2004)

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Let me sing with inspiration
Of the man born of two nations,
Of Rome and of Britain...
...Arthur the blessed
Led his assault from the Great Wall...
— Poem used in promotions, attributed to the 6th century Welsh poet, Taliesin. Actually made up.

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.

Artorius Castus/Arthur (Owen) is introduced not as a king but as an officer in the Roman army in Britain. 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 (Gruffudd), Galahad (Hugh Dancy), Bors (Ray Winstone), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) and Gawain (Joel Edgerton) 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 (Stephen Dillane), a former enemy, and the beautiful, courageous Guinevere (Knightley) by his side, Arthur will have to find the strength within himself to change the course of history.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Dad: Bors, who has eleven kids.
  • Action Girl: Guinevere fights like a maniac with a variety of weapons throughout the film, and later on leads a whole Amazon Brigade into the climactic battle.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Justified, since this is meant to be a more realistic retelling of the Arthurian Legend. Arthur and his knights are highly skilled, but still ordinary, soldiers while Merlin is simply the leader of the Briton rebels instead of a wizard.
  • Advertising by Association:
  • 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.
  • Annoying Arrows: Averted twice. Dagonet and Lancelot both die this way, by crossbow bolts.
  • Artistic License – History: The movie's claim to be the true story behind Arthurian Legend is best taken with a grain of salt. Go to its dedicated page for more information.
  • Ascended Extra: Dagonet. He was normally portrayed in Arthurian Legend as a buffoon and a coward, which also counts him as an Adaptational Badass. He's quite obscure in the mythos itself with its huge cast. Few nowadays outside of scholars would have heard of his name if not for the movie.
  • Asshole Victim: None shed any tears for Marius, who takes an arrow to the chest courtesy of Guinevere and two of his monks who even the Saxon’s put back into the hole they were walled up earlier by Arthur.
  • Badass Boast: Tristan's "I aim for the middle."
  • Badass Preacher: Bishop Germanius is quite effective in a pitched battle, as shown when he is disguised as a Roman officer.
  • Band of Brothers: Of course. The knights stick with Arthur at the end despite being freed of their duties.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Contrary to the opening titles, most historians don't agree that King Arthur was based on a single historical person, although it was a popular speculation for decades. If anything, most historians suggest that the mythical King Arthur was inspired by several real life individuals, one being a Roman commander in the 2nd century. The "period" poem used in promotion to give credence to the former was plain made up for it.
  • Bash Brothers: Bors and Dagonet fight as a pair and Bors is furious when Dagonet dies. Since they look alike, they might be actual brothers.
  • Battle Couple: Averted, though there was definitely a setup for this for Arthur and Guinevere. Instead, Lancelot and Guinevere fight together against Cynric.
  • Battle Cry: RUS!!! from all the Sarmatian warriors. It's probably supposed to indicate that they're essentially proto-Russians, though it's not that simple in real life.
  • Beard of Barbarism: Cerdic and the Saxons have thick beards.
  • Berserk Button:
    • For Arthur, fooling his men or tricking them into more servitude.
    • For Lancelot: Arthur making decisions that risk his life and being unable to get a better reason than "For honor" as to why.
    • For Cerdic: Challenging his authority.
  • Big Bad: Cerdic and his Saxon army all advance on the first means of protection for Rome, Hadrian's Wall.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Cerdic wants to find a worthy opponent as he rampages through Britain.
    • An early bit of dialogue reveals Tristan to be one as well:
      Galahad: ... No, I don't kill for pleasure. Unlike some.
      Tristan: Well, you should try it some time, might get a taste for it.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Bors is a loudmouth and a ferocious warrior.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Rome to Arthur when he learns Pelagius has been branded a heretic and executed.
    • In a very subtle way, Rome and Bishop Germanius to Alecto, the boy who Arthur and his men were sent to recover - Alecto is disillusioned with the fact that someone noble died for his protection.
  • Canon Foreigner: Bors has eleven children, ten who are in fact not even named except for the eldest Gilly. In the Legend Bors had two sons, one named Bors and the other Lionel.
  • 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 breath, and his slashes and stabs are clean and smooth. Tristan's sword and bow are uniquely far-eastern (Tibetan?) as well.
  • Composite Character: In this continuity, Merlin is the leader of the Briton rebels and Guinevere's father. In the Arthurian cycle the Britons were divided before Arthur, and Guinevere's father was a king named Leodegrance (Merlin himself may have been a Composite Character of a North Brythonic prophet, Myrddin Wyllt, and a Romano-British warlord, Ambrosius Aurelianus, before later tradition reduced him to a wizard in King Arthur's court).
  • Corrupt Church: Bishop Germanius is a smug nasty piece of work and he holds the men's discharge papers hostage after the initially promised 15 years of servitude in order to send Arthur and the knights on what is basically a suicide mission to rescue the Pope's godson, who may be a leading position in the church himself someday.
  • Danger — Thin Ice: The battle scene between Arthur and his troops against the Saxon army, on a massive pool whose surface is frozen. When the Saxons turns out to be far greater in numbers for them to fight, the battle then ends with Dagonet pulling a Heroic Sacrifice by using his axe to smash the ice's surface, sinking himself and most of the Saxon army into the freezing water to their deaths.
  • Dated History: The reason behind the makers' decision to call the rebel "Woads" is that the ancient Britons were thought to use woad in tattoos or body paint, based on Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War and the existence of a people called "Picts" (from Latin pictus, "painted") in Late Antiquity-Early Medieval Britain. However in the couple of years after the movie came out, practical experiments showed that woad is ill-suited to be used in such fashion, being caustic and scarring when applied under the skin, and drying and falling too fast when over it. Its use to dye objects is attested for centuries, however.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Guinevere, who turns one of Lancelot's quips on him...
    Lancelot: You must be frightened... There are a lot of lonely men out there.
    Guinevere: Don't worry, I won't let them rape you.
  • Decomposite Character: Guinevere, who retains the traditional elements of being Arthur's love interest, and Vanora, which is believed to be the name for an early version of the Guinevere character and seems to have taken the Love Triangle aspect Guinevere typically has with Lancelot.
  • Demoted to Extra: Merlin only appears for a few scenes and doesn't really contribute much besides allying his people with Arthur.
  • Dies Wide Open: Dagonet and Lancelot
  • Demythification: The premise of the film is to show the true history behind the legends without the magic, but they take a lot of license with the history anyway.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: 7 Warriors are tasked with defending an area from another group of marauding men of vastly superior numbers. Oh Gee, where have I heard THAT before?
  • Dual Wielding:
    • Lancelot uses two swords.
    • Bors also sometimes uses a pair of brass-knuckle/dagger combination... things. (Trench Knives... not made/used in numbers until at least the 1800s.)
  • Enemy Mine: The Woads have fought Arthur and his men (and their predecessors) for years, but they ally with him to stop the Saxons.
  • Excalibur in the Stone: The film combines Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone as is often done. Excalibur is an ancestral weapon that Arthur pulled as a boy from his father's grave mound.
  • Exposed to the Elements: The Woads, definitely, but justified by their portrayal as tough barbarians. Less justifiably, Galahad seems happy to wander through the cold in a short-sleeved tunic and a kilt.
  • Famed in Story: Arthur and the knights are well-known in Britain, stories of them reaching Guinevere and Cerdic before they meet.
  • Fantastic Slur: The Romans call the rebel Britons "Woads" (presumably for their use of woad as body paint), which is not attested historically. Word of God is that it is indeed intended to be a local insult.
  • The Fatalist: Tristan is one of the least surprised when Arthur informs them that the Romans went back on their word, stating that they are all destined to die someday anyway and that those who are so afraid of dying should just stay home.
  • Fingore: In one scene Arthur has to fix Guinevere's dislocated fingers.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Lancelot's father tells Lancelot of the Sarmatian belief that great warriors that die in battle are reincarnated into horses. The shot of three horses running near the end of the film represent Dagonet, Tristan, and Lancelot himself, who all died in battle over the course of the film.
    • Tristan brings a crossbow from the Saxon army to Arthur, warning Arthur that the weapon is capable of piercing through their armor. Once hand-to-hand combat with Lancelot goes south, Cynric opts to pick up a crossbow and fatally shoot Lancelot through his armor from afar.
  • Friend to All Children: Dagonet bonds with the boy they rescued.
  • Friend Versus Lover: In a moral sense, rather than directly choosing one person over another - Arthur's choices are between leaving with Lancelot (who comes back anyway) to enjoy freedom and staying to fight Saxons with Guinevere and the Britons.
  • The Fundamentalist: Marius and his priests/inquisitors imprison Woads for being pagan.
  • Gentle Giant: Dagonet is a big quiet guy who bonds with a kid.
  • Good is Not Nice: Arthur and his knights may be the protagonists, but they're soldiers from a barbarian culture and are definitely not pansies.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Arthur and his knights are ruthless when they have to be, and aren't afraid of acting otherwise.
    Guinevere: How many Britons have you killed, Arthur?
    Arthur: As many as have tried to kill me.
  • The Ghost: Pelagius, a churchman who influenced Arthur and is discussed by him and the Bishop, but who never appears in person. Rectified in the director's cut.
  • Hero Killer: Cerdic and Cynric kill Tristan and Lancelot respectively.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Dagonet dies breaking the ice on the lake to put an extra barrier in front of the Saxons.
    • Lancelot is killed defending Guinevere from Cynric.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Arthur and his men don't wear helmets at all in the first 80% of the film, which is odd considering the helmets could have been another means of keeping themselves warm when they're in the north. They finally wear helmets in the final battle against the Saxons, but Tristan takes his off for no other reason than to identify which of Arthur's knights has chosen to engage Cerdic directly in a duel. Lancelot, likewise, has his helmet off when he fights Cynric. Arthur, surprisingly, averts this during his final fight with Cerdic.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Arthur is closest to Lancelot as per the legend. In the film, Bors and Dagonet are close as well, and Gawain and Galahad are never far apart either.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Bishop Germanius, who is actually considered 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.
  • Honor Before Reason: Arthur, unsurprisingly. Lancelot, surprisingly not, which is a point of conflict between the two - Arthur refuses to abandon all the people that lived in the village near Marius' compound even if it gives him and his men a better chance of evading the Saxons, as Lancelot suggested.
  • Hot-Blooded: Bors and Galahad. Both are most openly enraged when Arthur brings up the mission to escort the Roman family.
  • 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.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy:
    • Subverted. When the Woads ambush Arthur and his knights they shoot arrows at them and no one gets hit. Merlin had ordered not to harm them.
    • Played straight with the Saxons, though.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Many of the good guys, but Tristan falls under this to a truly terrifying degree.
    • Galahad and Gawain have a knife throwing contest. Tristan opts to join in by throwing his knife into the the handle of Galahad's.
    • When Arthur orders Tristan and Bors to respond to the Saxons' pitiful shot towards them, Tristan shoots five arrows at the same time and somehow manages to hit a Saxon with every single one of them.
    • He manages to shoot the man that betrayed the Romans, who had been hiding in a tree... beyond the wall... through the cover of thick smoke... and there's no indication at all as to how he knew said man was in the tree in the first place.
  • In Name Only: Granted that the film is not a straight adaptation of the legends, the choice of knights still feels like this. For instance, Galahad is supposed to be Lancelot's son. Only Lancelot is anywhere close to his legendary counterpart because of his closeness to Arthur.
  • Insult of Endearment: Bors's relationships seem to be entirely made of these, including his relationship with his family:
    Bors: Hello all my bastards! (Children cheer that Daddy's home)
    Bors: (Watching Arthur's marriage to Guenevere) I guess now I really do need to marry your mother.
    Vanora: (Who has been Bors's lover for many years and had eleven children with him) What makes you think I'd have you?
  • Lancer vs. Dragon: For the final battle Lancelot fights Cerdic's Dragon (and son) Cynric. It ends in a Mutual Kill with Lancelot dying of his wounds right after finishing off Cynric.
  • The Last Thing You Ever See: When Arthur meets Cerdic before the battle.
    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.
  • Legacy Character: Arthur is the latest of his family to serve as a commander of Sarmatian troops in Britain, and he is named Arthur or rather "Artorius" like all the previous ones.
  • Love Triangle:
    • Very much downplayed, Lancelot and Guinevere share some looks but the movie focuses on her and Arthur. In fact, Lancelot seems to be quite distrustful of Guinevere and was quite resentful towards her for convincing Arthur to stay and help the Britons.
    • It's actually implied that Lancelot is the other man in a love triangle between Bors and his lover Vanora, and hinted that at least some of Bors' children are in fact Lancelot's.
  • Made of Iron: Dagonet until he is killed saving the others.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: It's hinted that at least some of Bors' children aren't his, but actually Lancelot's. Lancelot jokes that when they all got their freedom, he would be sleeping with Gawain's imaginary wife while Gawain wonders why his children looks like his friend. Later, Bors sees Lancelot flirt with Vanora and briefly compares him to his baby son, before dismissing it. However Lancelot later says that son Bors calls number 3 and describes as a good fighter is in fact his, which seems to annoy Bors. It's worth pointing out that Bors' only named son, Gilly, has dark black hair like Lancelot unlike either of his parents. A deleted scene included in the directors cut has Lancelot explain to Guinevere that he feels that he's killed too many sons to raise one, given a potential reason for why Vanora is with Bors if Lancelot is the father of some of her children.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Bishop Germanius, who hold Arthur and his men's discharge papers in front of them within the opening scenes and opts to send the men on another mission instead of handing them to the men.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Bors for Dagonet.
    • Arthur for Lancelot.
  • Mission from God: Germanius's selling point to get Arthur to take on one last mission under the pretense that it is a mission sanctioned by God. Arthur isn't buying it.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • This exchange, considering Lancelot in some versions of Arthurian Legend had been raped (though by women, not men).
    Lancelot: You must be frightened... There are a lot of lonely men out there.
    Guinevere: Don't worry, I won't let them rape you.
    • Instead of Arthur and Guinevere fighting as a couple in battle, Lancelot and Guinevere fight together, nodding to the supposed romance between the two that was not acknowledged in the film.
    • The surprisingly simple, yet clever demythification of Excalibur in the Stone. It was Arthur's father's sword, and was laid at his tomb. It remained there until young Arthur pulled it out and used it to fight in a Woad attack. So the reason the sword could only be pulled by Uther Pendragon's rightful heir was that it had been legally owned by Uther's family the entire time.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The knights are supposedly Sarmatian; the Sarmatians were an Iranian people living in the Balkans and eastern 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.
  • Posthumous Narration: The end of the film reveals this is the case with Lancelot.
  • Pragmatic Hero: The lot of Arthur's knights, save Arthur. Tristan and Lancelot each give Arthur flak for not being more practical in his chosen endeavors.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Arthur and Guinevere before the battle of Badon Hill. Subverted in the director's cut, where the scene takes place a little earlier in the film, and the pair are interrupted by Jols coming to tell Arthur that the Saxons have arrived.
  • Rage Against the Heavens: Arthur, briefly when his best friend dies in battle - considering he specifically prayed for his life be taken if that is what God finds as a necessary sacrifice to allow the men their freedom. Noteworthy in that nothing comes of it.
  • Really Gets Around: Lancelot claims so - he jokes that at least one of Bors' eleven children is his and makes a pass at Bors' lover Vanora, and also states that he'd bed Gawain's imaginary lady just to be an ass.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Personality wise, there are plenty of examples amongst Arthur and his men.
    • Bors' Red to Dagonet's Blue - Bors is boisterous, loudmouthed, and a raucous father and lover while Dagonet is softspoken and befriends the Woad boy that they rescue.
    • Gawain's Blue and Galahad's Red - Gawain is calm, even in the face of disappointment (such as when Tristan bests both him and Galahad in knife-throwing), while Galahad is young, hotheaded, and quick to react to situations he's not pleased with.
  • Recut: There's a director's cut with deleted and rearranged scenes and more gore. In the prologue with young Lancelot, young Arthur is also shown talking with his mentor, the cleric Pelagius (played by Owen Teale).
  • Reincarnation: At the end of the film, there's a few shots of running horses as Lancelot's voiceover says the Sarmatians believe their warriors get reincarnated as horses.
  • Related in the Adaptation: In this continuity, Guinevere is Merlin's daughter, who is leader of the rebel non-Romanized Britons. Her wedding with Arthur unites them with the Romanized Britons led by him.
  • Reverse Grip: How Arthur mortally wounds Cerdic with Excalibur, thrusting the blade backwards past his own body.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Arthur makes a beeline straight for Cerdic when Cerdic kills Tristan.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Dagonet. It's the first on-screen indicator that not all the knights will survive till the end.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Bors and his lover Vanora - in fact, one such exchange between them happens within the first twenty minutes of the film.
  • Smug Snake: Bishop Germanius, who only really trusts the knights to do their jobs of protecting him and escorting a Roman family purely because he holds the means of their freedom.
  • Sticky Fingers: Tristan tends to casually take a variety of things that he deems nice and the Romans are usually too confused to stop him.
  • The Stoic: Dagonet and Tristan.
  • Suicide Mission: Germanius sends Arthur and his men on what is essentially one of these at the beginning of the film - on the last day of their sanctioned 15 years of service.
  • Suspiciously Small Army: Lampshaded by Bishop Germanius, who notes that he was under the impression Arthur had more men. Arthur's response is that the group present is all that managed to survive the past 15 years. This is played straight until the climax of the film, when Arthur holds an entire fort with a mighty force of six men. Fortunately they get backup later on from the Woads.
  • Sword and Sandal: At the tail end of the genre, with the Roman Empire in its twilight years.
  • Taking You with Me: Cynric fatally wounds Lancelot with a crossbow, but Lancelot manages to kill Cynric before dying.
  • This Means Warpaint: The Woads wear blue face and body paint (woad) in battle, a practice they take their name from.
  • Those Two Guys: Gawain and Galahad - it is implied that they are rarely apart, and Gawain makes the decision for both him and Galahad to travel North though Galahad is less than pleased.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Arthur's knights in this iteration, seen most clearly when they're all having a drink after their opening mission to protect the bishop - all are battle-worn and tired of the constant trials sanctioned by Rome, and all are less than pleased by the notion of another mission in the way of their freedom.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Lancelot kills Cynric like this, even as he is on the verge of death himself.
  • Tragic Keepsake: Lancelot has a carving that reminds him of the village he was taken from. Later in the movie, Dagonet's ring for Lucan.
  • Undying Loyalty: The men to Arthur, stated best by Dagonet: "The Romans went back on their word. We have the word of Arthur. That is good enough."
  • War Is Hell: For Arthur and his men, who have been fighting for 15 years straight in the name of Rome (a cause, Arthur states, that the men don't believe in at all).
  • Warrior Princess: Guinevere is the daughter of Merlin, the chief of the Woads.
  • Weapon-Based Characterization: The knights each wield different weapons to characterize them.
    • Arthur, being the leader wields Excalibur.
    • Lancelot is The Lancer and he fights with two swords.
    • Tristan is the Archer Archetype, and in close combat he wields a curved sword.
    • Gawain favors the spiked mace and during the final battle he also wields an ax.
    • Bors fights with a pair of Trench Knives, which highlights his Boisterous Bruiser personality.
    • Galahad uses a short sword and a small rounded shield.
    • Dagonet is The Big Guy alongside Bors and he fights with both a sword and an ax at different points.
  • Weddings for Everyone: The film ends with Arthur marrying Guinevere, and during the ceremony Bors laments to one of his bastard children that "Now, I'm really going to have to marry your mother."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Several from Lancelot to Arthur, most of which involve calling the latter out on his decisions regarding the group and what Arthur is leading himself or the men into in the name of Rome.
  • Worthy Opponent: After meeting Arthur, Cerdic mutters "Finally, a man worth killing."
  • Would Hit a Girl: Cynric. Then again, they're in the middle of a big battle.
  • Xenafication: Guinevere is a Woad warrior princess in this iteration of the Arthurian legend.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): King Arthur