Guy Ritchie’s ‘King Arfur’ and the wideboys of the round table

The director has reinvented ‘King Arthur’ as an East End geezer. Watch it, mate

the trailer for Guy Ritchie’s, King Arthur.
King Arthur Legend of the Sword
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Director: Guy Ritchie
Cert: 12A
Genre: Action
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen
Running Time: 2 hrs 6 mins

I will say the following in favour of Guy Ritchie's King Arfur. It's a much better Assassin's Creed film than Assassin's Creed. If you want to see people from the olden times run along rooftops and leap across alleyways then this is your only man. Ritchie doesn't bother with the pretentious modern-day framing story we got in the real Assassin's Creed. We are thrown straight into the squabbles with giant elephants and conversations with monstrous aquatic beasts.

Ritchie doesn't much bother with structure, character or motivation either. The film exists to prove that he can impose his trademark lock-up-in-Dagenham aesthetic on any source material. You win, mate. King Arfur really does feature the line: "I need you to go to Londinium and get the lads." There is clearly nothing known to man that can't be Ritchified.

With most Arthurian adaptations, we can count on the reader already knowing the plot. That is not the case here. Ritchie has left his Tennyson largely unthumbed. TH White does not much trouble the scorers.

True, we begin with enjoyable, violent guff concerning the spectacular death of Uther Panfragon (barely conscious Eric Bana), Arthur’s father, and the rise to authority of the evil Vortigern (Jude Law).


The volume is deafening. The computer-generated effects are suffocating. It’s all good fun, but it’s also a bit rural for Ritchie. You don’t encounter nearly enough dodgy Cortinas in the shadow of Glastonbury Tor.

Astonishingly, Guy does manage to get his young hero to the East End of Londinium. The baby Arthur is spirited away to a brothel where he develops prodigious gifts as a thief, fixer and all-round diamond geezer. Eventually, now grown into Charlie Hunnam, he gathers a gang of differently talented wideboys around him and becomes drawn into the fight to regain England.

King Arfur's take on London resembles nothing so much as the version we remember from Asterix in Britain. We neither expected not desired any attempt to recreate the cosy 5th-century settlement, but the team could have done something a little more imaginative than rebuild contemporary Millwall out of wood.

Never mind. Ritchie really does have fun staging heists and murders beneath the thatched roofs and teetering balconies. It reaches full absurdity when Arthur is brought to Excalibur – we surely don’t need to explain why it rests in a rock – and asked to do what nobody has so far managed.

David Beckham in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Unsurprisingly, much has already been made of David Beckham’s cameo as the bloke standing beside the stone. To be fair, what little he has to do he does perfectly adequately. The distraction contributes, however, to the near-total botch up of an episode that should be indestructible.

In Excalibur, John Boorman cleverly subverted the scene by having Arthur remove the sword largely unnoticed. Ritchie neither reinvents nor reinforces the familiar beats. Arthur's triumph needs to be got past as rapidly as possible so that the hero can go back to being Dennis Waterman. Ritchie's main priority is always to be himself.

King Arfur is chaotic. It is short on female roles. Hunnam does not swell with charisma. The plot never finds the agreeable forward momentum of Ritchie's Ritchiefication of Sherlock Holmes. And yet. There is a crazy joy to the film's unapologetic gangster logic.

The shameless efforts to structure the piece as a superhero origin story – watch out for a class of "round table" towards the close – will almost certainly not be rewarded with sequels. (It is easy to exaggerate the yearning for faux Game of Thrones.) But Arfur remains an amusing enough folly.

Next up, Ritchie tackles Disney's Aladdin. I can only imagine.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist