29 thoughts on “SNARK WEEK: Excalibur (1981), Pro or Con?

  1. You forgot the Lady of the Lake’s sequin dress xD
    I still love this movie, and no one will change my mind.
    besides, it also has “Parsifal” and “Götterdammerung” music pieces in it <3, not just “Carmina Burana” (I remember a craze for “Carmina Burana” shortly before the film was released :D)

  2. Pro. I know it’s camp and stupid and completely OTT but I loved it and still watch it when it shows up late at night on obscure TV channels.

  3. I agree with all your points on this. However England (well the different kingdoms that would one day make up England) probably was trading with Egypt during the “Dark Ages” (Early Middle ages), if not directly then certainly in directly, as there was a lot of trading to England from the Mediterranean and vice versa.

    1. You beat me to it. There were amphorae of wine from what’s now Turkey and of olive oil from the Aegean and what’s now Tunisia being broached in the palace of Tintagel during the 5th-7th centuries, and these imported luxuries were consumed from fine Mediterranean ceramics and even finely-painted glass table wares. (All of this was probably paid for in Cornish tin – Cornwall supplied tin for making bronze to the Mediterranean since before 2000 BCE, and in the 5th-7th centuries Cornish tin was in demand by Egyptian potters for tin-glazing.) When that much exotic luxury was being routinely imported, how likely is it that the king of the Dumnonii and his court wore only homespun woollens and linen, and didn’t also put in orders for exotic textiles as well?

  4. I have so many mixed feelings about this movie. I’ve seen it so many times (because yes, Gen X guys LOVE this film), and I love it and loathe it in equal parts. The men have ridiculous full-plate chrome armor, and the women are dressed in fantasy robes. I also remember how Camelot in put on the side of a wooded hill, which… is not very strategic.

    I have often wondered– how could you adapt any King Arthur story successfully now? The story is supposed to be set in the 6th century, which is late antiquity, but most of the famous elements of the story (Lancelot, etc) come from much, much later. So either you make a Bernard Cornwall-esque story with post-Roman duces fighting against Saxon mercenaries against a background of decaying imperial Roman infrastructure, or you keep all the knights and ladies and wizards and make a fantasy hodgepodge like Excalibur. I don’t know how you could merge the two and make it work.

    1. Have you ever read ‘The High Kings’ by Joy Chant? It’s an attempt to recreate what early versions of the Arthurian stories might have been like as told in a royal Romano-British household within a generation of the Roman withdrawal. I like it a lot.

    2. Do as the Medievals did – pick your favourite character, leave shame at the door and make it up as you go! (-;

      (Oh, and for pity’s sake avoid trying to stick the entire Matter of Britain into a single story – the Arthurian Legends aren’t just a myth, they’re a whole darned setting).

    1. Same! Mosquitoes are aggressive around here.

      For what it’s worth haha, there is a first-hand Medieval chronicle that mentions knights sleeping in their armour in camp, knowing their proximity to the enemy. The source may be questionable, though not necessarily wrong, but it is there at least. (Might try to cross-reference other sources on that campaign at some point.)

  5. I saw this movie in a theater when it came out. I wondered then, and I have wondered–on and off–ever since, how one commits rape in full shiny chrome armor. I mean, I think Gabriel Byrne can do anything…but maybe not this.

    1. While it can be icky to visualize the logistics of it, especially given the context of the scene, people, including armour experts, have debated this very point online.

      Between the movable maille skirt, and what we can assume underneath is braies (in-universe anyway), it would be workable to do it. It would also help if the armoured participant were at least… decently well equipped.

      What would be a worry is pinching, on any of those hinges. The armour making contact with skin might be unpleasant as well depending, since armour tends to conduct temperature (hence arming wear underneath).

      I’m sure some reenactors have tried it but to my knowledge are stingy in reporting their findings.

  6. Not a day goes by that don’t think of Helen Mirren’s wardrobe in this movie. Especially that awesome cutwork leather dress. The erstwhile goth chick in me would have loved to have worn that out to the clubs back in the day.

  7. Pro for me.

    I do get it’s divisive though, as are most Arthurian productions. The only one I can think of that isn’t generally divisive is Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), where the consensus opinion holds it in high regard. With movies like Excalibur you either hop on board with the premise or you really don’t.

    The perma-armour is an interesting choice, also used in the excellent (though perhaps even more divisive) Lancelot du Lac (1974). The armour is bulky and genuine metal, though it’s aluminum. You can tell by the distinct plastic sound it makes. A friend commented on this while watching, and I told them the armour’s not plastic; that’s just the sound aluminum makes. Steel has a distinct, higher-pitched tinny sound.

    It does have a special place in my heart, though. Besides being a childhood favorite, a loved one passed away recently and they spent their last hours watching this, with me right next to them. So now it’s a bittersweet association.

  8. I’ve always enjoyed Excalibur. Some of the scenes just stick in my head, especially the one where the king rides forth again through the wintry landscape and the spring blossoms as he rides – the king and the land are one! (I also always laugh when people today act as if electing one or another politician will suddenly have such an effect)

  9. A silly movie, but lots of fun, and the occasional nice magical sequence. May I please request a little love here for the great Nicol Williamson as Merlin?

  10. Being of a slightly older generation who imbibed the Arthurian mythos at a very early age, (thank you messers White, Disney, Lerner, Lowe, and eventually Steinbeck), I have a fondness for Excalibur as it was the first movie I saw that actually dealt with The Matter of Britain. Its not history, its myth. The music, the scenes, and even some of the costuming reinforce this. For example, the armor the knights wear only becomes really shining armor once Arthur becomes king. And yes, the scene of the Land bursting into blossom as the King rides forth to the Last Battle is indelible.

  11. Pro, but I’m probably that guy identified in the first paragraph. It came out my senior year of HS and hit me like a brick, re-firing every synapse that loved King Arthur stories in my pre-teen years. Is the costuming bad? Yes. Is the acting of the SHOUT ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME fashion? sure. But the sheer ambition realized deserves all the accolades.

    (I put it in the same category of “A Knight’s Tale,” movies that manage to get almost everything wrong and yet capture the essential truths of what they were getting at quite brilliantly. And it took me 20 years and a pandemic to learn to love “A Knight’s Tale.”)

  12. Monty Python is worth a laugh or two, but watching it hasn’t really dulled my appetite for Chivalric Romance (With extra CHIVALRY) so please chalk me up as a ‘Pro’.

  13. I’m a gen X guy, and I love this film. However, as so many have noted, it’s got no connection to any real historical period, so I think of it in the same terms as Conan the Barbarian or Xena: Warrior Princess. In addition to the amazing cast, I love Borman’s interpretation of Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur, with the theme that ‘the King and the Land are One’ carried through with sunshine and light when things are going well and rain and darkness when the land is troubled.

    Setting the tales of Arthur and his kin-niggets in anything like a historical setting is doomed to fail as Arthur never existed, at least not in the form presented in the tales. For starters, he would have been either Welsh/Cymry or Romano-British, and thus the antithesis of the Angles and Saxons who later gave their name to Angle-land, so being a King of England would have been an admission that his battle to protect his land from foreign invaders had failed! So stick with the fantasy setting, and for God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about the deaths of kings.

  14. I like it. I always approached it as a young boys idea of the Christian mythology it is. It was the only Arthur film that felt like mythology to me. “The Green Knight” is also way Arthur mythology and the art direction is also delightfully out there.

  15. Gotta say I’m Pro, for the casting and for the totally not-Dark-Ages-or-Medieval-or-anything-at-all-really costuming for its theatricality and for what it communicates about the characters. The scene with the land bursting into flower as Arthur rides out, is, as another commenter writes above, iconic. It takes the original source mythology just seriously enough.
    And yes, I always snicker at the “dress chromes” as my spousal unit describes the wedding scene armor. It’s very much of its time in filmmaking, and watching the DVD directors commentary was pretty interesting. I also like “Knight’s Tale” for very similar reasons – amazing casting, hilarious references to the original Chaucer, and costuming that’s totally WTF but in a way that works for me. YMMV.

  16. Nigel Terry as Arthur and Helen Mirren slinking around makes in all worthwhile but my personal breaking point was Igraine’s ‘dance’.

  17. Pro. I saw this one at the local (second run) theater, multiple times. My girlfriend and I watched it enough times to learn the spell of making by heart (back in the days before VHS or the Internet made learning movies lines easy). Even back then, as a wee baby nerd I knew the costumes were ridiculous (chrome armor! Bare arms!).

    I love it for the all-star cast, but especially for Helen Mirren and Nicol Williamson as Merlin, with his wonderful deep voice. There’s so much charisma in the cast, I find myself swept away, despite all the costuming issues.

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