The timeless tale of King Arthur and the legend of Camelot are retold in this passionate period drama. Arthur is reluctant to hand the crown to Lancelot, and Guinevere is torn between her loyalty to her husband and her growing love for his rival. But Lancelot must balance his loyalty to the throne with the rewards of true love.
***"You have to not care whether you live or die"*** There were three medieval/British Isle films released in 1995 -- "Braveheart," "Rob Roy" and "First Knight." Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" is certainly the most epic of the three at three hours, but I found it overrated; which isn't to say I don't like it, I just don't feel that it's as great as the hype would suggest (only about half of it is worthwhile). I liked "Rob Roy" better than "Braveheart;" it's very adult-oriented, violent, gritty and grim, however. "First Knight" is a believable take on the King Arthur/Camelot legend starring Sean Connery as Arthur, Richard Gere as Lancelot and Julia Ormond as Guinevere. They get tangled up in a bit of a love triangle. Ben Cross plays the villain, ex-knight Malagant. Being a relatively realistic portrayal of the folkloric story, the tone is similar to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991), but without the witch and the campy Alan Rickman. So don’t expect any of that silly magical jive with Merlin, Excalibur, etc. This might explain why so many pan the film, but I don't get their beef. Aren't there enough cinematic depictions of the Camelot tale with supernatural elements for them to enjoy, like 1981’s "Excalibur"? I'll put it this way, "First Knight" is to the Arthur/Lancelot legend what the film "Troy" (2004) is to the Helen of Troy chronicle, although “First Knight” is less gritty. The film caught my fascination right away with the character of Lancelot. He is portrayed as an expert swordsman, drifter, loner and all-around lost soul. The beginning reveals something integral to understanding his character: Lancelot takes on an intimidating dude in a swordfight contest at a village he’s traveling through. After Lancelot prevails, the big guy asks him for advice on how to be as skilled a swordsman. Lancelot tells him that he needs a couple of obvious sword-fighting skills, to which the man confidently replies, "I can do that." Then Lancelot tells him the last quality he needs: "And you have to not care whether you live or die." This is a powerful scene; Gere plays the character very convincingly (in fact, if you hate Gere, this film might give you a new-found respect for him). This character-defining episode reveals HOW Lancelot is the only one able to prevail against an incredible and decidedly deadly weapons gauntlet later in the story, which is a highlight. The rest of the film is just a solid medieval/British Isle adventure with a noble folkloric tone, requisite forest scenes and all. What I mean by “folkloric” can be seen in Lancelot’s heroic rescue of Guinevere in Malagant's cave fortress, which is pretty implausible. But these are larger-than-life figures, right? "First Knight" more than satisfied my hunger for a medieval/British isles flick and surprised me with the intriguing character of the suicidally-brave Lancelot. If one doesn't have hang-ups regarding the absence of Merlin, Excalibur and the magical baggage that goes with 'em, this is an entertaining and classy heroic film. On top of all this, the movie features a fascinating allegorical subtext: King Arthur is God, Camelot is Heaven, Malagant is the fallen Lucifer, his dark, cavernous ‘castle’ is the Underworld, Guinevere represents humanity caught in the epic fight between good (Arthur) and evil (Malagant), and Lancelot represents worldly temptation. The film runs 2 hours, 14 minutes and was shot in Wales & England. GRADE: B