Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Excalibur [1981]

US movie (1981). Orion/Warner. Pr John Boorman. Exec pr Robert A Eisenstein, Edgar F Gross. Dir Boorman. Spfx Peter Hutchinson, Alan Whibley. Screenplay Boorman, Rospo Pallenberg. Based on Le Morte Darthur (1485) by Sir Thomas Malory. Novelization Excalibur! * (1980) by Gil Kane (1926-2000) and John Jakes. Starring Robert Addie (Mordred), Katrine Boorman (Ygrayne), Gabriel Byrne (Uther), Nicholas Clay (Lancelot), Paul Geoffrey (Perceval), Cherie Lunghi (Guenevere), Helen Mirren (Morgana), Liam Neeson (Gawain), Niall O'Brien (Kay), Clive Swift (Ector), Nigel Terry (Arthur), Nicol Williamson (Merlin). 140 mins. Colour.

E astonishingly succeeds in conflating almost the entire Arthur mythos (see also Matter), largely as recounted by Malory, into a single small compass; much of its incidental music comprises appropriate passages by Richard Wagner. With Arthur as the embodiment of the Land, its sickness or health bound up with his, the tale falls into four parts: (a) the prelude to Arthur's drawing of the Sword in the Stone; (b) the events leading up to the mortal blow dealt to the king/land by Lancelot's and Guenevere's adultery and by Morgana's seduction of the unwitting Arthur; (c) the Quest for the Grail, which Arthur institutes as a cure for these ills, conducted in his winter (see Fisher King) and the land's (see Waste Land), and bedevilled by Morgana and the sadistic Mordred; and (d) Arthur's final attempt to drive the Evil of Mordred from the land and thereby cure it (see Healing). Arthur himself is rarely the focus: Merlin is the pivot of the first two parts and Perceval that of the third. The Merlin presented here is quirky to the point, sometimes, of buffoonery, thereby conveying a nice difference between him (and his priorities) and the mortals of whose world he has grown weary. This sense of the seepage of Magic from the world (see Thinning) is carried on through the portrayal of Morgana (conflating Malory's Morgan Le Fay, Morgause and Nimue), Merlin's pupil and eventual nemesis. Arthur and Guenevere, by contrast, are depicted as naive country folk of – even in Arthur's case – limited vision; in one striking shot Arthur declares his intention to build the Round Table and bring everlasting peace while behind the small, raggedy band of his supporters we see an infinitely vast, infinitely starry night sky. The scene could stand as E's epitome: whatever the grandeur of their ideas, none of the protagonists – save Merlin – can ever stir very far from the grime of the real world. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.