Saturday 19 August 2017

King Arthur review: Lock, Stock 'n' two smoking arrows

'King Arthur' is not the film Guy Ritchie hoped to make - and Jude Law steals the limelight, writes Anne Marie Scanlon

Jude Law stars as King Arthur
Jude Law stars as King Arthur

I hadn't expected to like Jude Law. He's a remarkably talented actor, his good looks are beyond ridiculous but unfortunately, he's almost as well known for his rackety love life as his job.

Given his reputation I figured Law would either be arrogant or greasily charming in the manner of a Leslie Phillips Carry On character.

In person Jude Law looks exactly like Jude Law, no better and no worse. (Although how it would be possible for him to look better is beyond me. And, quite frankly, beyond science.) Far from arrogant he's down to earth, friendly and exceedingly charming, (without any hint of grease).

His co-star in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Charlie Hunnam, is a breathtaking sight on screen and in this movie has a body that screams of punishing hours in the gym. Unfortunately, the torso shots are as good as it gets for the actor as Hunnam, unlike Law, is a complete charisma vacuum. I figured, that in real life, Hunnam must be magnetic - why else would director Guy Ritchie (we'll get to him in a minute) have cast him as the titular character in what is set to become a franchise of films?

Unlike Law, Hunnam is better looking in real life but far more slight than he appears in cinemascope, and at the risk of objectifying him, unfortunately has his shirt on. After a few minutes in his company I can see why Ritchie, (and indeed Sam Taylor-Johnson who initially picked him for 50 Shades of Grey) cast him. The actor, who shot to fame in the TV series Queer As Folk, exudes an air of menace and danger - perfect material for Christian Grey or King Arthur as reimagined as a Guy Ritchie geezer, ducking and diving, in old London town.

I've come across more than one A-list actor who appeared to be sitting on top of a volcanic rage - naming no names, but on each occasion the star tempered the threat with kindness and humour. I'm not getting that here.

And so to Guy. Guy Ritchie is almost exactly as I imagined Guy Ritchie would be. He's not as handsome, as tall or as posh as his newspaper cuttings would imply.

He appears quite normal - there's a bit of a geezer to him but he's also polite, funny at times, and someone who likes to get things done. As soon as he walks into the room he asks me if I'm cold as the AC is up high. Worse, for him, is that it's too noisy. so he has to 'sort it' before we can talk and within seconds the room is silent, if chilly.

As we speak the director keeps fiddling with his unusual square wedding ring, it comes off his wedding finger and goes on to another finger and back again.

King Arthur is an odd film. At times, usually when centring on 'Arfur' the boy who grew up in a brothel and is now a Boss, running his manor in old Londinium Town, it is "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Arrows" - there's a heist-style scene, an improbable sheepskin coat that is uber-Hipster and the Ritchie signature quick cut-ins, rewinds and multiple retellings.

That would be fine but the style keeps changing. The film starts out like Game of Thrones, and gosh, yes, there's Aidan Gillen with a funny nickname (instead of Littlefinger he's Goosefat Bill) and towards the end it goes all Harry Potter with a giant serpent. In between we get gorgeous set pieces that seem to reference pre-Raphaelite paintings (although Ritchie says this is not deliberate, "I care about the look… but to use certain terms to express what that look is, I would struggle to do so.") And splattered throughout there are scenes that are pure video game aesthetic.

Ritchie himself admits in so many words that this was not the movie he set out to make. "I have a sort of idea and the idea at the beginning of this film, which I did not succeed in at all, was 'solemn'. I wanted to make a solemn film," he says laughing. "Somewhere along the way it didn't become solemn," he continues, his voice still rising with laughter, "it became something else. The films in this genre, that work, are solemn. So that was my objective."

The hotch-potch style is jarring (although I'm sure teenage boys will dig it) and the only person who appears to know what they're doing on screen is Jude Law as Arthur's evil uncle Vortigern who has usurped the throne. And therein lies another problem, because Law is so watchable and believable I ended up rooting for him, which is a bit like going to see Harry Potter and cheering for Voldemort. Law tells me that "it's great fun" playing a bad guy, "of course the villain doesn't think he's a villain necessarily", he adds. I ask him how he would cope with unlimited power. He pauses, "that's a big question isn't it?" before adding, "hopefully with a lot more diplomacy, open-mindedness and embrace collaboration and humanity than Donald, em, Vortigern", he finishes, laughing.

Law has nothing but praise for Ritchie who he worked with before on the two Sherlock Holmes films (he was Watson, Robert Downey Jr the eponymous detective). At the start of King Arthur, Vortigern is 20 years younger so I ask Law how it felt looking at his doctored image. Does he regret the passing of his youth? "I was quite pleased that I could play myself 20 years ago (laughs) that they didn't bring in some other guy. I was the first person, believe me (he squints up his eyes) to go 'what have they done, what have they done?'"

Law has embraced the ageing process: "I'm very happy in my skin right now. It's funny you know, my son is 20 so I'm very aware of what the 20s are, the kind of blind, staggering, 'what's going on, what do I have to do?' My memory of my 20s is 'am I in the right place? Or is the better place over there?' It was full of excitement and frenzy and possibilities but there was an awful lot of insecurities and an awful lot of uncertainty as well, and I think we all know as you get older… slowly either you can't be bothered," he laughs, "or you feel more comfortable in your skin. So I'm far happier. Happy is not the right word, I'm content now."

As we chat I comment that he was born to play Bosie in the 1997 film Wilde. "I don't know if I take that as a compliment, he was HORRIBLE," Law replies. When I reassure him it is, he laughs and adds: "I got to kiss Stephen Fry, that was one of the most romantic moments of my acting career." Jude Law, ever the gentleman.

The review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword 

Cert: 12A; Opens May 19th

The Sherlock Holmes films saved Guy Ritchie by stabilising his stock in Hollywood once again. If he could reinvent a brand as ubiquitous as the Victorian super-sleuth, studio bosses probably reasoned, Ritchie could probably give the Camelot legends a millennial boot up the behind too. Right?

Ritchie's cheeky-cockney-chappy shtick still manages to find a way into this kitchen-sink makeover of the Arthurian legends. The emergent Knights of the Round Table in this origins story have less to do with codes of chivalry and more to do with metropolitan hipster cool, as if a bunch of Camden baristas have been let loose at a battle re-enactment. Centre-stage, we get a very Conor McGregor-esque Charlie Hunnam (as Arthur himself) and Jude Law's baddie, both far too groomed and modern to be at all convincing.

So intent is Ritchie on scrawling all over the mythology that he even has to crowbar ancient "Londinium" into the yarn despite it having little to do with the lore. Throw in an F-word and a David Beckham cameo and King Arthur... feels neither one thing nor the other.

Arthur, a wily orphan, leads his own crew in the mean streets of London. That is until he surprises everyone, including himself, by pulling the sword from the stone. He now has to join in the fight against the uncle who orphaned him (Law) by embracing his lineage and harnessing his powers.

Enjoy the CGI, but don't expect to give it another thought.

★★

Hilary A White

Sunday Independent

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