1981 Nigel Terry
Production Notes for Excalibur
A myth, psychiatrist Carl Jung believed, is a spiritual memory of some great event in humanity's past. Reverberating through the centuries, it becomes richer with each re-telling. Filmmaker John Boorman agrees. "We've heard the tale a thousand times, Boorman says." "But we listen closely to find out what happens next. And to our surprise, we discover something that wasn't there before." Boorman has spent the past year in a medieval wonderland to re-live what he calls our most powerful legend. The story of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, the wizard Merlin, and the quest for the Holy Grail.
John Boorman's Excalibur an Orion Pictures release through Warner Bros., stars, among others, Nigel Terry as Arthur, Helen Mirren as the enchant~ress Morgana and Nicol Williamson as Merlin, in a cast which includes some of the foremost young actors in the British and Irish theatre. For some 1500 years, Boorman observes, the story of King Arthur has maintained its appeal in wildly varied forms.. .as a ballad,
sung by wandering troubadors. . .a pseudo-history by Geoffrey of Monmouth. . .a romantic saga in Malory's "Le Morte D'Arthur" ... a cryptic poem by T.S. Eliot ... an epic poem by Tennyson . . . a richly humorous fable in T.H. White's "The Once and Future King" ... a hit Broadway musical in "Camelot".. a wide-screen swashbuckler in "The Knights of the Round Table" even a Disney animated cartoon. "As an inspirational source, it has sired everything from gangster movies to science fiction," Boorman goes on, "Think of Obi-Wan Kenobi in 'StarWars" as Merlin and Luke Skywalker as the young King Arthur, and it's no shock to discover who Darth Vader really is."
That is not meant critically, Boorman quickly adds. "I've been drawing on the myth in my own work for twenty-five years. In terms of stories and locales, my films may seem to cover a good deal of ground. But you'll find echoes of Arthur and Merlin in 'Deliverance,' 'Zardoz, ' even a thriller like 'Point Blank.' "What I have finally done -- which I wanted to do all my life, except that the time was never right 'til now -- is tell the story directly. From start to finish. My own way." Unlike past screen versions, which have hacked off chunks ot the tale and served them up out of context, Excalibur follows Arthur's life from its mystic conception in a rugged castle on the Cornish coast to the dying king's departure for Avalon. "It's a tragic story with a great deal of bloodshed," Boorman says. "The characters attempt to do great things. . .and fail. They fall prey to every human frailty; lust, treachery, brutality, self-deception, self-pity. But they redeem themselves by discovering their destiny. "In contemporary films, the characters spend most of the time poking around inside themselves. Here, they search for their place in the outside world. That's the definition of destiny, to find your place in the world."
While Excalibur is loyal to the legend -- codified by Thomas Malory in the 15th Century - - Boorman acknowledges that there is a "shift in emphasis" in his vision of Camelot revisited. "The focal figure in the film is Merlin," he points out. "In a surface way, that reflects the fact that Merlin is the character who has most fascinated me. . .ever since I read T.H. White as a schoolboy. "In a deeper sense, it's because I believe he is at the core of the legend and its longevity."
Boorman sees Arthur's reign as a pivot point in mankind's misty past, when magic -- as part of everyday life -- was losing out to rational thought. Merlin symbolizes that transition, Boorman says. "Having manipulated men, through sorcery and charlatanism, since 'the beginning of time, ' he senses that his days are nearing an end. The old pagan gods of wood and stream are giving way to new gods of logic and science. "The dragon, 'whose power is so terrible that to see it whole and all at once would burn you to cinders, ' is fading from the real world into our unconscious. That, too, is where Merlin will spend eternity. But first, there are a few mortal matters, matters of good and evil, to be put right. "If Merlin's death marked the end of magic, it also left us with a terrible longing for a lost golden age. When we re-tell the legend, we believe that Arthur and Merlin, and Camelot itself, may return, as prophesied in Malory's epitaph for Arthur, 'The Once and Future King."
Within the allegory, adds Boorman, is a vivid character i,qhose mocking humor is as pervasive as his magic. As played by Nicol Williamson, he has the rich irony of a man who knows himself for what he is. . .part prophet, part phony. "In that sense," says Boorman, "he's a great deal like Gandaif in 'The Lord of the Rings." His mischievous wit also separates Merlin from the staunch chivalry of the nobles around him. "He sees them venture into bedchambers, ride into battle, set out on sacred missions and plot bloody deeds, with a peripheral vision which takes in both the past and the future. "And since we watch the action unfold through his eyes, we share his amusement. I don't think the story's been told that way before. And when it is told again -- as it inevitably must be -- it will be seen still another way. "That is the nature of the legend."
John Boorman's Excalibur an Orion Pictures release through Warner Bros., stars Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicholas Clay, Cherie Lunghi, Paul Geoffrey and Nicol Williamson. It was directed and produced by Boorman from a screenplay he co-authored with Rospo Pallenberg, adapted from Malory's "Le Morte Darthur" by Pallenberg. Executive producers were Edgar F. Gross and Robert A. Eisenstein. Cast of Excalibur