If you think about it, it’s odd that there isn’t one film that people can point to as the definitive King Arthur movie. Whichever version of the legend you relate to—be it Disney’s The Sword and the Stone or John Boorman’s knights-and-nudity classic Excalibur—depends primarily on when you were born. The most recent attempt, Disney’s King Arthur starring Clive Owen and a shockingly good supporting cast, was mostly bland and hoped that “realism” would capture the audience in ways that previous iterations hadn’t, but it didn’t. Arguably the most successful King Arthur movie is a spoof of the myth.
But why is that? In terms of universal recognition, King Arthur is somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and Santa Claus. Shouldn’t the tales of his adventures translate to film rather easily?
Guy Ritchie has a theory.
The Snatch director just wrapped shooting on King Arthur, the first film in what Warner Bros. hopes to be a series of films about the Knight of the Roundtable, and he has a pretty simple explanation for why past movies about the character haven’t totally worked.
“I think where the pitfall has often been is trying to make King Arthur bland and nice, and nice and bland. The two qualities make rather compatible bed companions,” Ritchie told EW on set. “Unfortunately, they’re not interesting to watch. Luke Skywalker was always the most uninteresting character in Star Wars because he’s the good guy. Good guys are boring.”
In short, King Arthur has a Superman problem. He’s always good, always noble, and rarely conflicted. A fix for that, as Ritchie posits with his take on the character, is to bring him down a peg. His Arthur starts out as far from nobility as possible. He’s an orphan raised by prostitutes in the streets of 5th century London. “That King Arthur was a good guy from the beginning,” Ritchie said. “Our King Arthur is not a good guy from the beginning.
In other words, he’s got room to grow, a key for Charlie Hunnam, the man who would be king in this case. “If somebody is walking around with noble aspirations and just looking for a vehicle to show how f–king noble they are and then they find out that they’re king of England, oh wonderful! We’re off to the races,” Hunnam said. “But it’s all a bit boring and Arthur looks like a bit of a c–t.”
Well, that’s a way to put it.
To continue reading the cover story on King Arthur, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Friday.