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John Boorman directed this gloriously savage interpretation of Arthurian legend loosely based on Thomas Malory's novel Le Morte d'Arthur. By turns gleaming and filthy, tender and bloody, the film is a visually stunning epic which is never less than compelling. Nigel Terry is perfectly cast as Arthur, whose unwavering trust and faith are shown to be both quietly heroic and achingly naïve. Interestingly, the quest for the Grail is the least effective part of the film, despite bold cinematography by Alex Thomson (who was nominated for an Oscar) and a fine performance by Paul Geoffrey as Perceval, whose greatest desire is attained in his dying sight. It is the scenes of Camelot in which Boorman is at his most effective, as Arthur is betrayed by the burning passions of Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), whose boiling internal forces cannot be denied, whatever the cost. The wicked Mordred (Robert Addie) and Morgana (Helen Mirren) are commanding when onscreen, and Nicol Williamson's performance as the grandiosely self-sacrificing Merlin is outstanding. Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart also appear in this dense, passionate, and stirring triumph featuring a marvelous Trevor Jones score. The gruesome effects by Peter Hutchinson and Alan Whibley, however, and sights such as a knight having sex in full body armor make this a fairy tale strictly for adults.~ Robert Firsching, All Movie Guide


  • Nigel Terry
  • Helen Mirren
  • Nicholas Clay
  • Cherie Lunghi
  • Paul Geoffrey
  • Nicol Williamson
  • Robert Addie
  • Gabriel Byrne
  • Keith Buckley
  • Katrine Boorman

Did You Know?


  • The black smoke in Arthur's first siege on a castle was created by burning tires. It left black flakes on a nearby town.
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  • Boom mike reflected King Arthur's armour.
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    • Arthur: Now, once more, I must ride with my knights to defend what was, and the dream of what could be.
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What a wondrous vision Excalibur is! And what a mess.

Metacritic review by Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert
Chicago Sun-Times

It must be said that the closing sequence, in which Arthur meets the misbegotten Mordred on an orange battlefield illuminated by a shield-sized red sun, is an epic, Oedipal masterpiece of authentic mythic power, a sequence so strong it shakes the torpor from one's shoulders and induces regret that the rest of the saga has been so juvenile, so lifeless and so lacking poetry or Shakespearean sweep. [11 April 1981]

Metacritic review by Jay Scott
Jay Scott
The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

For all its audacity, a misguided folly.

Metacritic review by Geoff Andrew
Geoff Andrew
Time Out London