King Arthur (2004)

 

 

Director:  Atoine Fuqua

Starring:  Clive Owen (Arthur), Ioan Gruffudd (Lancelot), Mads Mikkelsen (Tristan), Joel Edgerton (Gawain), Hugh Dancy (Galahad), Ray Winstone (Bors), Ray Stevenson (Dagonet), Keira Knightley (Guinevere), Stephen Dillane (Merlin), Stellan SkarsgDrd (Cerdic), Til Schweiger (Cynric), Sean Gilder (Jols), Pat Kinevane (Horton), Ivano Marescotti (Bishop Germanius), Ken Stott (Marius Honorius).

The legendary King Arthur, with a very different Guinevere, a female warrior magnificent with the bow and arrow.

 

Spoiler Warning:

"Historians agree that the classical 15th century tale of King Arthur and his Knights rose from a real hero who lived a thousand years earlier in a period often called the Dark Ages.  Recently discovered archeological evidence sheds light on his true identity."

 

"By 300 AD, the Roman Empire extended from Arabia to Britain.  But they wanted more.  More land.  More peoples loyal and subservient to Rome.  But no people so important as the powerful Sarmatians to the east."

[According to the map in the film, Sarmatia was located north of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.  Today that land is the southern Ukraine and perhaps Moldova.  During the Iron Age, to the Ukraine came the Dacians as well as nomadic peoples like the Cimmerians, Scythians and Sarmatians. They were an Iranian people who settled in the western part of the Kingdom of Scythia on the north side of the Sea of Azov.  They ultimately gave rise to the modern Ossetic ethnic group, found today partly in the country of Georgia, north a little ways into Russia..  The Alans who were a group of Sarmatian tribes according to the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus: "Nearly all the Alani are men of great stature and beauty, their hair is somewhat yellow, their eyes are frighteningly fierce".] 

"Thousand died on that field.  And when the smoke cleared on the fourth day, the only Sarmatian soldiers left alive were members of the decimated but legendary cavalry. The Romans, impressed by their bravery and horsemanship, spared their lives.  452 AD.  In exchange, these warriors were incorporated into the Roman military. Better they had died that day."

A young lad named Lancelot races his horse back to his camp of yurts.  He tells his father that the Romans have come for the Sarmatian boys of age to join their army.  Lancelot is one of those boys.  He would be one of those who serve the Roman Empire as knights. 

Lancelot says goodbye to his family and his encampment.  He asks of the Romans how long will he be gone?  15 years. 

As narrator, Lancelot says:  "Our post was Britain   -- or at least the southern half, for the land was divided by a 73-mile wall built three centuries before us to protect the empire from the native fighters of the north.. . .  we made our way and reported to our Roman commander in Britain, ancestrally named for the first Artorius, or Arthur."

As a small boy, Arthur was told that one day, like his father, he could be a leader of the Roman knights. 

15 years later.  Arthur leads a group of Roman knights that includes Lancelot.  Below them in a valley, they see a Roman caravan heading back to Rome.  The knights mention that the caravan is Arthur's passage to Rome. And it represents freedom for the Sarmatian knights. 

Also looking at the Roman caravan is a band of native fighters.  All of a sudden, the native people, called the Woads, come running downhill and into the valley to attack the caravan.  The Romans are sitting ducks, easily picked off by the archers and the axmen.  It looks as if it's going to be a massacre, but here comes Arthur and his knights.  They kill one Woad after another. 

After the battle Arthur welcomes Roman Bishop Germanius to Britain.  He explains that the Woads are the ones that control north of Hadrian's Wall, but Rome's anticipated withdrawal has increased their daring and they have been striking south of the wall.  Woads are British rebels who hate Rome.  Their leader is called Merlin, a dark magician. 

The Sarmatian knights now escort the caravan to Hadrian's wall.  When knight Bors gets back, his wife, mother of eleven children, slaps him and asks him where has he been?  They kiss.  Later around a large round table, the knights toast to those who didn't make it and to freedom.  Germanius arrives at the table and says the Pope has taken a personal interest in this small group of Sarmatian knights.  His hope was that the knights would have converted to Christianity, but everyone except Arthur are still "pagans".  When Arthur gets to Rome, he will be treated as a conquering hero. 

Now Germanius gets to the worries of Rome.  Barbarians from every corner of the known world are almost at Rome's door.  That's why Rome is withdrawing from indefensible areas such as Britain.  Germanius supposes that the Saxons will claim Britain, because in the north a massive Saxon incursion has begun. 

Germanius has come with the knights' discharge papers, but Rome has one final order for the knights.  They are to head north and rescue the family of Marius Honorius.  In particular, they must return with the son of Marius, Alecto.  This son is the Pope's favorite godchild and pupil.  There is a possibility that Alecto could be pope one day.  Arthur and his knights think that it is not fair on their discharge day to tell them that they have to perform a task which is far more dangerous than any other they have undertaken.  Germanius asks if Arthur intends to defy the Pope  -- to defy God Himself?!  Arthur only says that he will hold Germanius to his promise of giving them their discharge papers when they return.

Arthur now tells his knights that they have one last mission to perform.  Of course, the knights are angry and they complain and criticize this last mission.  Knight Bors even criticizes Arthur, but there is nothing Arthur can do.  These are his orders.  They will be leaving at first light.  And yet, in the end, the knights decide to stick together and will go on the mission.  In private, Lancelot tells Arthur that they have never had to fight the Saxons north of Hadrian's wall.  And now he blows off steam by denouncing the whole mission.

A large contingent of Saxons lands on British soil.  The leader stops one of his men from continuing to rape a British woman.  He says that there will be no intermixing with the British.  That would weaken the tough Saxon blood line.  When the rapist protests, the leader kills him with his sword.  Then, in private, he asks his son, who supported the rapist, is he challenging him?  And if he is, he better have a sword in his hand.  He will have no more of him questioning his orders.  He will hold his tongue or father will cut his tongue out. 

From a traitor to his people, the Saxons hear of Arthur, who has never been defeated in battle.  They also talk about the rich family that is of great importance to Rome.  The son of the leader says that the ransom they could get for the family would pay for the whole Saxon campaign in Britain.  The leader says he will attack from the North and his son will attack from the south. 

A Woad scout reports to Merlin that there are thousands of invading Saxons.

Tristan tells Arthur that the Woads are tracking them.  He says they are everywhere.  The Woads have set up an elaborate trap along the horse trail.  They block forward motion, backward motion and even a side motion with walls of ropes.  Archers shoot at the Sarmatians from the tops of trees.  In another direction, the way is blocked by the Woad warriors.  They finally surround the Sarmatians, but then they step back from them.  Arthur explains to his men:  "Merlin doesn't want us dead."

Merlin tells his closest men that there might be a purpose for Arthur and his Sarmatians. 

Arthur and his knights arrive at the villa estates of Marius Honorius.  Marius is very glad to see their arrival.  Arthur immediately says that they have to evacuate at once, because the Saxons are invading from the north. 

Arthur sees the village elder tied up in punishment of disobeying his master Marius.  Arthur sets him free and tells the villagers to help this man.  He now tells the villagers that they must start moving south to Hadrian's Wall because the Saxons are coming and leaving nothing alive behind them.  A village man named Ganis is put in charge of the preparations to move south.  Tristan arrives to tell Arthur that the Saxons are also coming from the south in an attempt to cut off their escape.  Tristan recommends that they travel east across the mountains. 

Arthur investigates a walled off section of the castle.  It is a dungeon prison.  Some of the prisoners are already dead, others barely alive.  They find a boy prisoner and then a woman prisoner.  Arthur frees the woman and then carries the woman outside and gives her some water.  Bors says that the woman is a Woad. 

Marius comes out telling Arthur to stop this.  These prisoners are all pagans who refuse to obey God and his divine plan for them. Arthur shouts:  "You mean they refused to be your serfs!"  Marius says that Arthur will be punished when they get to Hadrian's Wall.  Arthur tells him that perhaps he should kill Marius right now, and seal his fate.  Marius doesn't want that, of course. 

Arthur now leads the village convoy away from the Marius villa and into the eastern mountains.  He checks on the woman prisoner.  He moves some of her fingers back in place.  She tells him that they tortured her with machines.  Then she hears Arthur's voice in the darkness.  She says her name is Guinevere. 

The Saxons reach the Marius estate.  The leader gives the order to "burn it all". 

Guinevere gives Arthur a hard time because he works for the Romans and kills Britons.  She tells him:  "I belong to this land.  Where do you belong, Arthur?" 

Along the road through the mountains, Arthur finds Saxon warriors frozen to death. 

Lancelot doesn't like Guinevere it seems, that is, until he sees her half-naked having her hair fixed by a woman.  Guinevere sees him looking, but does not react in any way.  Later she comes out into the snow to talk to him.  She asks him what his home land is like?  He tells her, but adds:  "I would have left you and the boy there to die."

Guinevere continues walking.  Arthur follows her.  She stops.  He comes close.  Then Merlin appears and Arthur says that Guinevere betrayed him.  She says that Merlin means no harm to Arthur.  Merlin says the Romans and leaving and the Saxons are coming.  "The world we have known and fought for is ended.  Now we must make a new world."  Arthur says he will be in Rome by that time. Merlin says his fight is with Rome, not Arthur.  But Arthur says Merlin and his people have killed many a good Sarmatian knight. 

Flashback.  Arthur remembers the killing of his mother.  He went and pulled out his father's sword, Excalibur, from his grave to revenge his mother. 

Back to the present.  Merlin says to defeat the Saxons the Britons need a true leader.  And he wants Arthur to be that leader.  Arthur resists the idea.

Marius takes the former boy prisoner hostage by the force of arms, but he is stopped by Guinevere when she shoots an arrow into his chest. It's not clear what Marius was going to do, but he paid for it with his life.

Tristan reports that the Saxons have armor-piercing crossbows.  Furthermore, they are coming close to the caravan. 

Arthur says he's sorry to Alecto for the loss of his father.  Alecto says his father had lost his way.  Arthur is a strong believer in the Roman thinker Pelagius.  He tells Alecto that Pelagius teaches that all men are born free and equal.  Alecto tells Arthur a year ago they killed Pelagius.  The man was excommunicated and killed.  He then says:  "The Rome you speak of doesn't exist, except in your dreams."

The caravan reaches a lake that is frozen over.  On the other side of the lake they see the Saxons blocking their way.  They start across the lake, but have to stop because the ice is cracking underneath them.  The knights decide to make a stand, while Ganis leads the caravan on a different route.  Guinevere is staying with the knights as an archer. 

The Saxon army moves out onto the ice.  They are over-confident of an easy victory.  The bows of the Sarmatians can throw an arrow farther than the bows of the Saxons.  Arthur tells his group to shoot at the right wing of the army to make them cluster to the middle, thereby concentrating theot weight on the ice.  The ice starts cracking, but is still holding.  Knight Dagonet runs out farther onto the ice and starts using his giant axe to break through the ice.  Now the ice starts really breaking and the Saxons start falling into the icy water.  Knight Dagonet is killed by Saxon arrows. 

Arthur returns to the caravan.  Germanius is very happy to see him and Alecto.  Germanius gives the men their discharge papers. 

The group buries Knight Dagonet.  Guinevere talks with Arthur to convince him to stay in Britain.  She tells him that the Romans are leaving and these Britons are his people here.

The Saxon leader now removes his son as second in command and gives the leadership to a man named Raewald.  This really makes the son angry.

At night Guinevere comes to see Arthur in bed.  They start kissing each other.  They are interrupted when Arthur is called to come to the wall now.  The Saxons have arrived.  They are camping not far from Hadrian's Wall.  Arthur tells his men that his journey with them is over.  They are free to go.  Lancelot tries to stop Arthur from his decision to stay and fight, but Arthur asks him, as a friend, to not try to dissuade him. 

The caravan now pulls out to head south.  With the caravan go the Sarmatian knights.  On top of a nearby hill stands Arthur on his horse. 

The traitor says that the Roman auxiliary has left the wall.  The Saxons want to know who is the man on the hill.  It's Arthur. 

The traitor waves a white flag.  Arthur comes off the hill and through the gates to talk with the Saxon leader.   Cedric asks Arthur why does he fight on when the Romans have left him behind?  Arthur says:  "I fight for a cause beyond Rome's or your understanding."  He says the reason why he came out was to see Cedric's face to know what man to make sure he kills.  "And it would be good for you to mark my face, Saxon, for the next time you see it, it will be the last thing you see on this earth."  As Arthur rides back to the wall, Cedric says to himself:  "Ah, finally.  A man worth killing."

The Sarmatian knights hear the war drums and so do their horses.  The drums make the horses anticipate battle and they are a bit hard to control.  So the knights decide to rejoin Arthur.  They join him on a hill.  Before going down to the wall, one of the knights shoots an arrow that hits the traitor hiding in a tree outside the wall.  The man falls out of the tree. 

Now the gate is opened for a part of the Saxon army to rush in.  They don't know what to do, because there is no one there to resist them.  But from a hill the Woads now send their arrow raining down on the Saxon infantry.  The warriors start falling, while others cover themselves with their shields.  The shields are not that big so many others are still hit by arrows.  Then the knights come rushing through the smoke of the deliberately set fires and break up the defensive positions of the infantry.  The Woads now send another round of arrows down on the Saxons. 

The knights charge again, further splitting the infantry apart.  Soon Saxons are shooting darts into their fellow soldiers because they can't see what they're shooting at.  Raewald is let through the gates to report back to Cedric.  He says that the gates are the gates to hell.  For this, a Saxon warrior axes the leader. 

The Saxon army is still humongous.   They march and then run through the open gates.  They also see no one alive to meet them.  They do see, however, the numerous dead Saxons on the battlefield.  Cedric has the left flank move out. 

The Woads now shoot flaming arrows into a large ditch filled with oil separating part of the left flank from the other part.  Now the Woads attack the smaller part. 

The Woads start using giant machines to toss huge fire balls into the main ranks of the Saxons.  Led by the Sarmatians Guinevere and her group rush into the lines of the Saxons.  Tristan starts to go after Cedirc.  He kills a man trying to protect the Saxon leader. Bors is stabbed in the back with a long spear.  Guinevere fights the son of Cedric, Cynric.  Lancelot sees that Guinevere is in grave danger of being killed and he comes to her rescue.  Meanwhile, Cedric is defeating Tristan.  Lancelot is hit by a crossbow dart from Cynric that penetrates his armor.  Before Lancelot falls, he throws his sword into Cynric's chest.

Arthur sees Cedric deliver the death blow to Tristan.  With his very last energy, Lancelot puts his sword through Cynric's neck.  Now the fight is on between Cedric and Arthur.  Arthur kills Cedric. 

The Saxons have been defeated.  Arthur and Guinevere are still alive. 

The dead are buried.  Some of the Sarmatian knights are still alive.

"For 200 years, knights had fought and died for a land not their own.  But on that day at Badon Hill, all who fought put our lives in service of a greater cause.  Freedom."

Arthur marries Guinevere in a Woad wedding service.  They kiss and the crowd erupts.  In the audience is survivor Bors with his wife and all his children. 

It's now King Arthur!  The new King says:  "Let every man, woman, child bear witness that from this day all Britons will be united in one common cause."

"And as for the knights who gave their lives, their deaths were cause for neither mourning nor sadness.  For they will live forever, their names and deeds handed down from father to son, mother to daughter, in the legends of King Arthur and his knights."

 

 

Good action movie.  This is more of a war movie than the famous legend of Camelot.  It is set during the time of the Roman empire collapse resulting in fights for power, so the emphasis is on battles.  And boy is Keira Knightley great as the macho Guinevere.  I really enjoyed watching her, especially in the scenes showing her mowing the enemy down with her bow. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

The best that one can say of Arthur is that the characters is simply legendary without any real historical evidence to back up the various versions of the Arthurian legend.

 

54 B.C.  --  Julius Caesar of Rome invades England. 

43 A.D.  --  Roman invasion of Britain under Claudius.

4th century  --  in the east, Britain saw increasing attacks from the Saxons, part of the German people.

360 --  Picts & Scots cross Hadrianís Wall and attack Britain.

370 --  Picts & Scots driven out of Britain by Theodosius.

383 --  Roman legions begin to evacuate Britain.

410 --  Roman legions withdraw from Britain to protect Italy.

429  --  Picts and Scots expelled from southern England by Saxons, Jutes, and Angles.

436 --  the last Roman troops leave Britain; those left behind hire the Saxons to protect them.

5th and 6th centuries  --  archaeologically known as Sub-Roman Britain.

500 --  British victory over the Saxons at Mount Badon, Dorset.

527 --  Saxon kingdoms of Essex and Middlesex.

537  --  Arthur, king of the Britons, killed in the Battle of Camlan; semilegendary. Camlan was said to be the last battle of Arthur because he was mortally wounded by Mordred, thereby ending the age of the Knights of the Round Table.  (Mordred was said to be either the nephew or son of Arthur, or both, who exploited the Lancelot-Guinevere affair to bring down Arthur and his court.)

King Arthur was a Romano-British leader.  He fought against the invading Anglos-Saxon.  He lived sometime in the late 400s to the early 500s.  His power base was today's northern England and southern Scotland.  In southern England, there were East and Middle Saxons separated by the Thames River from the South and West Saxons.  The Angles (of the Anglo-Saxons) lived north of the Saxons in the area southeast of the Trent River.


Sarmartian version of the legendary Arthur based on character Lucius Artorius Castus.  Abbreviated from Wikipedia

 

Sarmatia was the land of the Sarmatians, an Iranian people, living in western Scythia, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD. 

Scythia was a multinational region of Central Eurasia in the classical era, encompassing parts of Ukrainian Steppe, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the northern Caucasus.

 

late 2nd century of early 3rd century  --  Lucius Artorius Castus was a career Roman soldier. Some authors believe that the Arthurian legends were influenced by the nomadic Alans and Sarmatians who settled in Western Europe.

Artorius had a long, distinguished career as a centurion and then primus pilus in the Roman army

Artorius was promoted to praefectus legionis of the VI Victrix, a unit that had been headquartered at Eboracum (York) since c. 122 AD. The praefectus legionis (or praefectus castrorum) served as third-in-command of the legion and was responsible for the general upkeep of the legionary headquarters, a position normally held by older career soldiers who did not command soldiers in battle.

Artorius then was assigned the temporary title of dux legionum.  He was in charge of transferring some units of unknown size with British associations to the Continent for an expedition against either the Armorici or the Armenians.

He became civilian governor (procurator centenarius) of the province of Liburnia, where he seems to have ended his days.

Malcor writes that Artorius fought against Sarmatians in eastern Europe early in his military career and this led in 181 AD to his being assigned in the command of a numerus of Sarmatians based at Ribchester (Bremetennacum) that campaigned around Hadrianís Wall. 5,500 Sarmatians had been sent to Britain by the emperor Marcus Aurelius in 175 AD. Artorius led these Sarmatians against invading Caledonians, who overran Hadrianís Wall during the period 183Ė185. Then, after the collapse of his legion, he returns to Eboracum, then is sent by the governor of Britannia to lead cavalry cohorts against an uprising in Armorica.

Malcor also suggests that Artoriusí standard was a large red dragon pennant (auxiliary forces did not use eagle standards), which is proposed as the origin of the Welsh epithet Pendragon ďDragon Chief/HeadĒ (alternately, "Leader of Warriors") in Arthurian literature.

There are no Roman historical source mentions of Artorius.  Nor is there any clear evidence that he ever commanded Sarmatians.

In 175, Marcus Aurelius, after defeating the Sarmatian Iazyges tribe during the Marcomannic Wars, took 8,000 Sarmatians into Roman service, of whom 5,500 were sent to the northern borders of Britain.

Critics conclude that Sarmatian influence was limited to the post-Galfridian development of the tales instead of historical basis, if at all.

 

 

 

 

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