Fact Check: The Myths Behind ‘King Arthur: Legends of the Sword’

Posted in Blog, Movies, Theatrical by - May 15, 2017
Fact Check: The Myths Behind ‘King Arthur: Legends of the Sword’

Guy Ritchie made a King Arthur film and I wrote a few things including this. “Prince Vortigern (Jude Law) literally snatches the crown from Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana). I am irrationally angry because this is not what happens in the real legend”. Retelling the real legend in my review would have looked like filler.

So I decided to write a separate and maybe longer piece about that. If there’s space on this piece about disclaimers, that means that I desperately needed filler to the filler. Anyway, Prince Vortigern, as the traditional legend states, is a usurper king and had magical powers. He may have been a descendant from Brutus, the first legendary British king.

But Vortigern was not Uther Pendragon’s younger brother. Vortigern was actually a noble close to the court of Uther’s father, Constantine II. He dies and passes the thrones to his eldest son, the monk-king Constans. Vortigern, who didn’t think a monk was a suitable king, plotted to kill Constans.

Because of his treason he spends the rest of his reign watching his back. Vortigern passes the crown to his son Vortimer. The inevitable happens. Vortimer dies and Uther’s second older brother, Ambrosius, takes back what’s his. Ambrosius dies and passes the throne to Uther, a man whose complexities are worthy of the position he inherits.

But before we get to Uther we have to talk about a new interpretation of Vortigern and Vortimer’s characters. Because in Frank D. Reno’s book Ambrosius Aurelianus:History and Tradition, he proposes a theory that Vortigern and Vortimer don’t really exist. And that’s because their names sound more like titles than actual names.

Moving on. Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is not Uther’s legitimate son as we see in Ritchie’s prologue. What Uther did to conceive Usher is that he disguised himself as his enemy to bed the latter’s beautiful wife. Instead of being raised in a brothel, he grew up in the household of that enemy noble. Ritchie probably chose Londinium as Arthur’s stomping grounds. It’s a choice I defended in my review, because that was more familiar to him than a rural keep.

But come on, if Ritchie wanted a change in scenery, he should have gone full in. You don’t go to East Timor to get a burger. Anyway, Arthur doesn’t get the chance to discover who he is until he turns 15. That’s when Uther dies in battle, not in a secret water passageway at the bottom of his castle.

This is again, Ritchie sticking to his comfort zone, preferring vulnerable yet still very adult, masculine males as protagonists. So I kind of like the way Ritchie depicted the queue in front of the Sword in the Stone. He shows it as a pandemonium, Vortigern testing every eligible male to discover which one is Uther’s living son. But in the legends, Arthur’s ascent into the throne seems smooth (boring).

Arthur’s tale has always been interesting to a viewing public. But I remember a surge of movies about his life when I was growing up in the 90s. Those films focused more on court intrigue than CGI elephants, but both were abundant in the legends.

From what I hear, Ritchie and Warner Brothers plan a six-film series on Arthur, which, good luck on that. But if those plans do succeed I can imagine four movies set the Darklands. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum, we can afford CGI snakes more than we did in the 90s. But that doesn’t mean we should.

And the last movie where Mordred appears. Mordred, by the way, is not Vortigern’s peer but is someone born a generation after Arthur. And that’s really important because in one of the versions of the tale, Mordred kills Arthur. Or the Vikings, who are actually Saxons, do him in. I just saved you $100.

Sources include Wikipedia and the Myths and Legends podcast.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.