FIRST KNIGHT, 1995
Starring: Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, Ben Cross
Lancelot falls in love with Lady Guinevere, who is due to be married to King Arthur. Meanwhile, a violent warlord tries to seize power from Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
"First Knight" was one of my all time favorite movies when I was a kid. What's not to love? A version of the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table... sword fights... Sean Connery... treachery and betrayal... romance and adventure.... it's an action film of epic Arthurian proportions! The question is, does this movie I thought was so awesome as a kid stand up to my adulthood tastes? The answer is yes... yes it does!
The back story we're given at the beginning of the film via scrolling text is that King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have been successful in their wars and now Arthur is promoting peace and brotherhood as Camelot's banner. Unfortunately, his first knight, Prince Malagant wants to rule and breaks away from the Round Table with an army of his own to pillage the country and force his way into power.
Lancelot is a vagabond who travels from town to town on his horse making money by challenging villagers to sparring matches with a sword, winner take all! Though Lancelot is undefeated, he tells the townsfolk that he's certain that although he's not met him yet, there is a man somewhere in the world who is a better swordsman than himself. A powerful challenger enters the fighting ring and goes after Lancelot with all his might, but Lancelot is too quick and skilled and unarmed the man. When asked how he fights so well, Lancelot answers "You have to not care whether you live or die". Not long after Lancelot leaves the town, Malagant's men attack and burn the town.
Lady Guinevere, the ruler of Leoness agrees to marry King Arthur- party because she loves him and partly for the protection he'll bring to Leoness. Her caravan, protected by Knights of the Round Table, travels through the woods on its way to Camelot and is ambushed by Malagant's men. Lancelot happens to be in the area, and saves Guinevere from being kidnapped. Enthralled by her beauty, he kisses her. When she rejects him, Lancelot agrees to not kiss her again until she asks him to.
Lancelot continues on his way and finds himself in Camelot where festivities are ongoing in celebration of Arthur's impending marriage. There is a gauntlet that no man has bested and Guinevere agrees to kiss any man that completes it. Lancelot does so easily (and without armor), but when Guinevere does not ask him to kiss her, he does not. Impressed with Lancelot's skill in the gauntlet, King Arthur shows him the Round Table.
That evening, Guinevere is kidnapped successfully by Malagant's men. Lancelot pursues her captors and rescues her. The two become close, but Guinevere stays true to Arthur. Arthur, impressed yet again by Lancelot, invites him to become a Knight of the Round Table. Despite the other knights protesting, Lancelot agrees. Guinevere and Arthur are wed, Lancelot is knighted, and news comes that Leoness has been invaded by Malagant. This means war!
I cannot for the life of me figure out how "First Knight" didn't get nominated for an Academy Award. It was JUST as good as "Braveheart" (the movie that won the Oscar that year), and infinitely better than the other "Babe", "Il Postino: The Postman" and "Sense and Sensibility" (3 of the other 4 movies nominated for the Oscar along with "Braveheart" and "Apollo 13")! It was snubbed for Best Picture as well as every other category!
The acting in "First Knight" is fantastic. Sean Connery is flawless (as always) as King Arthur. Richard Gere plays a charismatic Lancelot. Julia Ormond is stunning as Guinevere and extremely believable in her emotional tug-of-war she must deal with. Ben Cross is loathsome as the megalomaniac, Prince Malagant. They played their roles perfectly, and all while expertly wielding combat swords! How none of them were nominated is beyond me.
The cinematography was good. It wasn't great (that's the one part where I feel "Braveheart" was the superior film), but it was dynamic and interesting and invoked emotion... all the things good camera work should do!
And the story! The love triangle is classic and plays so well here, especially with Guinevere not wanting to allow herself to fall into it unlike many other (weaker) female roles that just fall in with both men and then wonder why it didn't work out. The betrayal of friendship between Lancelot and Arthur (even if unintentional) is as powerful as it is unavoidable. And the fight scenes are expertly handled and exciting. The screenplay just sings with truth and emotion and action-packed fun!
If you've never seen "First Knight", you should get your hands on it sooner rather than later. And if, like me, you've seen it but it's been a while, you owe it to yourself to break out the DVD and re-watch this Arthurian masterpiece!
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