Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Watched a film called King Arthur, because this is what was written in the Athens News television listings – “US adventure (2004) directed by Antoine Fugua. The Roman Empire is stretched across many nations, including Britain. In their conquest for more land, the Romans went into Sarmatia(!) where they fought the very brave Sarmatian cavalery.”(sic)
Cast: Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd
Whoops! Just been into Google and Sarmatia actually existed. We learn something new each day but I am a bit confused already because in the movie the Sarmatian cavalery (I presume) were informed they had to go to Britain on Rome’s behalf and their leader, I think, was Arthur. Does this mean he was of Iranian origin which the Sarmatians originally were evidently?
So what made me want to watch this particular movie? The answer is the fact that it is set in Roman times which is when the real Arthur lived and, at last, or so I thought, we get away from the sword in the stone, round table (oho there was a round table in the movie, quite a posh one too!), Holy Grail, lady of the lake, Mordred, Camelot, the once and future king whimsy.
Now there are two aspects of Greek television, no three if you count the inordinate length of commercial breaks; not only time to put the kettle on, but time to make and consume quite a hefty snack or even take a shower, and the two aforementioned are a total disregard for time and an uncanny knack of changing listed programmes just when you’re in the mood to watch something only to find a different programme being broadcast in which you have absolutely no interest whatsoever.
Well the film was scheduled to start on ET1 at 10 but by the time we’d got to twenty five past I was impatiently beginning to thumb the remote and so missed the opening title and credits. I caught it just as a date came up on the screen which I seem to remember was 427AD. First mistake, out by about 370 years if Arthur was around in the time of Claudius.
What I am going to write now is from memory of my research when I did the poster for Abydos Publishing and that was like a thousand years ago so I might at times be slightly off beam, but my research led me to believe this about the legendary king – Arthur, Welsh name Arivagu, Roman name Caractacus, was the son of Cunobelinus (Cymbeline), grandson of King Llyr (Lear). Together with his brother, Togodumnus, they defeated “the great boar of Caledon” so what exactly was this “great boar”? Caledonia at that time was near where Chichester is today and when Claudius’s legions landed they were met by Arthur’s Britains and roundly thrashed. So where does the boar come in? Well Claudius was an Etruscan and his household symbol which would possibly have been on his legions’ shields was a boar’s head. This episode definitely gives the time of Arthur’s existence as a British chieftain, that of the Catuvellauni, but not yet a king. Eventually our hero is captured and taken to Rome where, because of his bearing and courage, he is feted to such an extent, instead of being executed or sent into slavery, a villa is placed at his disposal, the Villa Arthur which, I am led to believe exits to this day. But the Romans never let the grass grow and the Brits were giving them such an almighty headache they persuaded Arthur to go back and this time, as King under the aegis of Rome, try to subdue the tribes, unite them and stop the nonsense. This all worked for a while until Arthur, sickened by Roman atrocities, which weren’t atrocities in Roman eyes, merely a means of governing, turned against them and once more became Rome’s enemy. Eventually he was betrayed and fought his last battle from his hill fort in Wales. This then is the true King Arthur. Now what about the film? Well they got right the whole bit about his fighting for Rome, but when he met Guinevere in the strangest of circumstances too complicated to go into here and a complete load of old codswallop, “I’m Guinevere” she says, rather like “Me Tarzan, you Jane” and starts to berate him about being nasty to his own people for the benefit of Rome and putting him on the right track, that’s where I gave up, so I have no idea how the film ends. If I were to give it a pitch it would be Seven Samurai comes to Roman Britain.
So I turned to Alter and saw the remainder of a Hannibal Lecter film but as I missed those credits as well and the film, being a substitution, wasn’t listed, I don’t know what it was. It kept me going till 1.30 anyway so it wasn’t a totally wasted evening.
Footnote, Lancelot du Lac was the son of a Roman governor of Gaul, hence his being known as the French knight. He had a split personality. Did he go for temporal satisfaction, his love for Guinevere? Or did he go for the spiritual, his quest for the grail? An interesting character who plumped for a bird in the hand as it were, rather than pie in the sky. In the film he was played by Mr Gruffudd but why oh why do the Americans have go over the top the way they do? Was there any reason why Lancelot had to have two long handled swords at his back, sticking up behind his head? Made the talented Mr Gruffudd look a right Burk.
One last observation, the Arthurian legends did not start in Britain, but in Italy, carried over to France by the troubadours, possibly even further north to Germany and Holland and finally across the water to England. One day someone might make a film that gets it right.

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