Memories of Excalibur

Nigel Terry as King Arthur, courtesy of

Does anyone remember the movie Excalibur? It was one of the first Arthurian films I watched, many years ago, and it awoke a love of both that particular myth, and the genre of magical mysticism that it was part of. I loved not just the fantasy elements, but also the gritty reality – the mud and blood and smells of early Medieval life – which you probably wouldn’t have seen in films made in earlier decades. (It was quite similar to the TV series Robin of Sherwood in that respect, so perhaps it was an eighties ‘thing’.)

Yesterday I watched a programme I’d recorded months back from PBS America, of all unlikely platforms, about the making of the film. It featured brief clips of the action, plus interviews with John Boorman (director), some of the other crew members, and many of the original cast. It had some incredible names in it, many of them just starting out on what became brilliant careers, including Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson, Helen Mirren and Cherie Lunghi. And it was fascinating. There was lots of insight into how it was filmed, how the actors were chosen, how the soundtrack came about (mostly Wagner’s Parsifal, which is based on Percival from the Arthurian legends, of course). Plus a whole heap of reminiscence and anecdote, including a rather non-PC tale of a man trying to buy Liam Neeson’s horse, the joys of humping cushions while shooting close-ups of some of the sex scenes, and the battle scene where the same 10 actors, in full armour, had to crawl off set beneath the cameras then run back on screaming again!

I’m not sure if the programme is still available anywhere but it’s well worth catching if so. And it’s reminded me that I enjoyed the original movie so much that all I want is to watch the whole film again. Although a quick look at some of the reviews online suggests that it might not have dated terribly well…

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