KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD
About The Production
From nothing comes a king.
Everyone knows the fabled Arthurian legend...or at least thinks they do. But in
the hands of director Guy Ritchie, the tale takes on a decidedly gritty, modern
edge and Arthur himself, not yet king, is instead a ruffian, a thoroughly
reluctant hero compelled to discover his true destiny even as he fights against
the very monarchy he is meant to rule.
"I think the best narratives take a man on a journey that transcends his
limitations and allows him to evolve from his most basic nature into someone
worthy of a bigger life," says Ritchie, who also co-wrote and produced the film.
"In our version of the story, Arthur's life starts small: an urchin in a
brothel, running the streets, learning to fight and dodging the law with his
mates. Then the actions of others-some with good, some with not-so-good
intentions-force him to expand his vision of who he could be."
Charlie Hunnam, who stars in the titular role, says, "Guy has taken the classic
hero's journey and created an origin story with a very accessible Arthur for a
new generation. Our Arthur has grown up fending for himself, rough and ready,
carving out a little world where he's a prince among thieves. But he's no noble
soul looking for a cause."
Nevertheless, it's looking for him, and as soon as Arthur comes into contact
with Excalibur, that extraordinary piece of iron firmly embedded in granite, his
life will change forever...like it or not.
"This is not your father's King Arthur," producer Akiva Goldsman echoes. "This
isn't a man faced with removing the sword from stone who is anxiously thinking,
'Could it be me? Will it be me?' This is a man who is thinking, 'What the hell
am I doing here? Don't let this be me.' In fact, he has no idea what
accomplishing such a feat will even mean for him, but he suspects it won't have
a desirable outcome. And he would be right."
While the presence of the famed Camelot was a must, it was producer/co-writer
Lionel Wigram who suggested setting the bulk of this big actioner away from the
castle, in a more urban environment, and both men were drawn to an ancient
version of England's capital: Roman London, which at the time was called
Wigram states, "There have been many separate and differing versions of the King
Arthur story, in which he has been everything from a Celtic warrior to a Roman
centurion. The myth has endured and has been adapted to fit the requirements of
each different time period in which it has been told. Given this rich tradition
of interpretation, we felt that as long as we retained its essential thematic
elements, we had license to come up with our own iteration of the story, to have
some fun with the details in a way we hope will speak to today's audiences."
Of course, no King Arthur story would be complete without a bit of magic.
Instead of dragons, however, the filmmakers wanted to create a new and unique
mythical world, with "elephants longer than a football field and snakes as big
as subway trains!" divulges co-writer/producer Joby Harold.
Feeling free to skirt around historical accuracy-the story is based in legend,
after all-Harold envisioned a distinctive way to offset the grounded elements.
"This is not your typical fantasy film. Fantasy is usually more lyrical, while
this is much more textured, much coarser, and for me that is what makes it
interesting as a fantasy landscape. We explore what it would be like to grow up
one way only to discover your heritage is something else entirely. We give
audiences the time to really get under Arthur's skin, but we counter that sense
of reality with massive fantastical components."
Wigram says, "Joby went for the jugular, sprinkling in magic, spectacle and
immense creatures and all that kind of fun, in order to give audiences an
exciting and unexpected visual adventure to go on along with Arthur."
Adding to the unconventional is the fact that the era's most noted magician,
Merlin, appears only briefly. Producer Tory Tunnell explains how the character
influences the story despite his near absence: "Merlin has always brought the
magic into Arthurian legend, but we wanted to paint a broader picture of the
concept of magic in a way we haven't seen before. Imagine a backstory to
Merlin's larger world, how the mages might have interacted within the mortal
sphere, including the menacing side of their efforts. This is, after all, the
medieval period through the Guy Ritchie lens, so you can expect to be surprised,
and that's always exciting."
One of the story's enthusiasts for the darker arts is Vortigern, Arthur's uncle
and the sitting king bent on keeping his place on the throne, no matter the
cost. To bring the right amount of gravitas to the ultimate villain, Ritchie
turned to his "Sherlock Holmes" star Jude Law, who played the affable Dr.
"We had a great collaboration on both 'Sherlock' films," Law recalls, "so when
Guy approached me with a view to playing Vortigern, I was curious. He described
the story as a way of looking at British folklore as opposed to history, and
this character as a man who is battling his circumstances, his own ego, a devil
within. I found that really intriguing and immediately looked forward to the
process and to working with Guy again."
Producer Steve Clark-Hall, who has worked with Ritchie on the director's last
five films, says that one of the things he finds most interesting is the way
Ritchie approaches character. "Guy is very consistent in making sure the
characters in his movies have a real appeal, whether they are good guys or
villains. It was just as important to him that audiences be able to relate to
Vortigern as to Arthur, because at the heart of all the epic action and giant
monsters, it's really the underlying dynamic between these two and the lengths
to which either is willing to go to defeat the other that will determine their
fate, and everyone else's. That's what makes the story so compelling."
Ironically, Vortigern wouldn't even be in this predicament if his ego and
unquenchable ambition hadn't driven him to seek out the "born king." If he'd
simply left well enough alone, would his nephew ever have learned who he really
is? As Arthur himself readily attests, he never had any power, or any desire for
it. So when he tells his uncle, "I am here, now, because of you-you created me,"
Arthur can't possibly know how the current king will act, nor can Vortigern
trust Arthur to let things stand as they are, despite his claims.
"This is an Arthur who doesn't aspire to greatness-fate throws it at him,"
Ritchie says, "and he fights it, and pretty much everyone around him, every step
of the way."
And fight he does, in visceral action sequences that include spectacular
displays of bows and arrows, battles of hack-and-slash swordplay, mad dashes
through the grimy back alleys of the city, and a mix of martial arts and
bare-knuckle fighting. It was all captured in stunning UK locations throughout
Wales and Scotland and on the cavernous Warner Bros. Leavesden soundstages, and
set to a pulsating score.
It all adds up to Ritchie's "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword," in which
Excalibur reveals itself, and a man's true calling along with it.
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