I thought I’d have a little fun with this week’s blog and talk about the man at the forefront of the Arthurian legend, King Arthur Pendragon, and the men who have played him on the silver screen. King Arthur has appeared on ever known media, from Broadway to Saturday Morning Cartoons. His dashing figure has wooed audiences with actors, both young and old.
There are some, though, that have really owned the role of King Arthur, whether it’s in style or looks, these men have commanded Camelot with the presence of a monarch. These are my top five actors who have portrayed King Arthur.
#5 – Sir Richard Harris in Camelot (1967) – Sir Richard Harris is an actor’s actor, with dozens of award-winning roles under his belt, from stage to screen, but he played King Arthur in the musical Camelot on stage, screen and television. The film won three Academy Awards and three Golden Globes. The musical was not the best adaptation of T.H. White’s “Once and Future King” but Sir Richard Harris was brilliant as Arthur, especially when he tried to tell us “how to handle a woman!” With Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere and Franco Nero as Lancelot, the story played up the love triangle of the story, so I give it an “A+” on the romance meter. Richard Burton also played this role in a TV presentation of Camelot, but his singing is nowhere near as good as Sir Richard Harris. He made this role his own, at least for musicals.
#4 – Graham Chapman in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) – Many people may not consider Graham Chapman as a household name when it comes to actors, but you cannot and will not EVER forget his performance in Monty Python’s hilarious look at the Arthurian legend. There are too many highlights to mention, but let’s raise a glass to Graham Chapman, whose performance as Arthur brings all the mayhem together into one tight-knit package. From coconuts for horses to fighting a Black Knight, his straight-faced, deadpan performance makes him King Arthur, but I’d stay away from Camelot, “it is a silly place!”
#3 – Nigel Terry in Excalibur (1981) – To be honest, this was my first exposure to the legend of King Arthur. I was enthralled by this movie, from the Wagner-esque soundtrack to the bulky platemail armor and the kinky medieval sex scattered throughout the film. Again, Nigel Terry is not a household name in America when it comes to British actors, but his performance as Arthur was so spot on. He went from the awkward young boy who drew the sword to the king that united a nation. I really think his portrayal of King Arthur is the standard that all other actors should be judged against. Even though I have him in third (and you will realize that once you see the top two), it was perfection.
#2 – Sir Sean Connery in First Knight (1995) – Even though this movie was panned by critics, it’s Sean friggin’ Connery people! He is the epitome of kingly virtue. His presence alone as King Arthur makes him stand head-and-shoulders above the rest. He literally carried the movie on his back. It had a good story, beautiful costumes and set design and the only time you’ll see an entire army disguised as a flock of sheep. But did I mention Sean Connery as King Arthur? ‘Nuff said!
#1 – Clive Owen in King Arthur (2004) – I’ve spoken on this blog many times about my love for this version of the Arthurian legend. Bringing together the Roman occupation of Britain as the basis for the medieval legend was enthralling, and Clive Owen’s performance was matched in its brilliance. He was a leader, a warrior, a loyal soldier and Christian and he was a lover as well. All this came through the outstanding performance by Clive Owen. This movie surrounded him with a stellar cast and great storytelling to bring the legend to life. The way they explained everything from the sword in stone to Merlin’s magical power tied the whole movie together, but on top of it all was an actor who truly became King Arthur.
If I had to give one honorable mention, it would be to Pierce Brosnan as King Arthur in the animated film Quest for Camelot (1998). Though he wasn’t on for a lot of the movie, his voice was unmistakable and he gave that presence to King Arthur in this movie.
Did I miss a favorite of yours? Let me know in the comments below.