Posts Tagged ‘King Arthur’

The Hystery of Britain

Posted in General on December 24th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 1 Comment

In 2004 Hollywood released a film on “King Arthur” that purported to be historically accurate. Films on Arthur usually garb him in costumes left over from Henry V productions: a slight discrepancy of 1000 years.

I wanted to see it, but I wasn’t quick enough. The film was a commercial failure; apparently not even the prospect of a tattooed Kiera Knightley in a fifth century halter could lure an audience. This latest version of King Arthur vanished from the theaters to make way for more popular depictions of the Dark Ages: American Pie III, etc.

Now, in Arthurian Legend, the King promised to return. Merlin obviously foresaw cable television. I am one of its addicts and so I finally had the chance to see the Hollywood history of Arthur.

The errors began with the opening credits. The setting is Roman Britain in the year 453. Rome’s legions are guarding Hadrian’s Wall against Pict incursions and Saxon invasion. Someone’s sundial must have been running fast. The Roman legions abandoned Britain 45 years earlier. The Saxons–and the Angles–may have been in Britain around 450, but they first came as hired mercenaries to protect the docile Romanized Britons against the Picts. (Yes, the fox would protect the chickens against cats.)

We then meet Arthur, a Roman aristocrat who leads an elite cavalry unit. The film wants us to admire him for his intelligence, sensitivity and compassion. As a minor concession to accuracy, he does not play the piano or belong to the ACLU. However, he is a personal friend of the British theologian Pelagius.

Pelagius really did exist and, for a fifth century theologian, he seems a very modern humanist. He disputed the idea of original sin, he espoused Free Will and doubted the existence of the Devil. Pelagius even believed that virtue was more important than dogma. Yes, of course, he was condemned as a heretic. He may have been killed; he certainly disappeared. His writings have all been destroyed but we can infer his beliefs from the Church’s condemnation of them.

However, Arthur is his personal friend. The slight problem is that Pelagius disappeared in 420. You’d think that Arthur might have noticed after 33 years.

The film’s choice of languages raises another historical issue. You will be relieved to know that the Angle-Saxons speak English. And why not–they invented it. The Romans write in Latin but speak English–with Italian accents. Perhaps the Romans were being cosmopolitan. However, the Picts speak Celtic–and require subtitles. That morsel of accuracy seems incongruous. Just have Merlin (the Pict leader) sound as if he were in a summer stock production of Brigadoon.

The film ends with Arthur’s triumph over the Saxons. I guess that they were never a problem again.

It is a good thing that I didn’t write the script. I would have had the defeated Saxons gather around a surviving chieftain called Wodenston who would rally them with “You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory — victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival…Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the Saxon tribe and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their second finest hour.