the big picture: Mickey Mouse and the knights of the round table

When the director of Ghost gets his hand on the legend of King Arthur, Camelot becomes a theme park and the Dark Ages get a coat of whitewash.

Never give a Zucker an even break. There's a Zucker born every minute. This is the sort of verdict that will occur to viewers of Jerry Zucker's dire new film First Knight. After Ghost, Zucker seems to think he has a natural affinity with romantic drama. Not on the basis of First Knight, he doesn't.

The film is an elaborate version of the legend of King Arthur, with lots of distracting business added and the core taken out. Camelot in First Knight is an odd mixture of theme park and benign fascist state. Happy happy townspeople greet Arthur's new bride with a mighty outpouring of confetti from the battlements - it's a Dark Ages ticker tape parade. The king's bodyguards execute precision manoeuvres in strict lines carrying torches, as if they were a motorcycle display team who had mislaid their machines. Some architectural details of Camelot, notably towers topped with blue cones, make it seem as it if this magic kingdom is ruled not by a round table of knights but by a little mouse with round ears - except that it is Disneyland filmed by Leni Riefenstahl.

A recurring shot is of the Round Table from above, with a sort of low brazier burning in its centre. When the round table is in session, the knights lay down their swords in front of them with ludicrous symmetry, as if they would lose points for sloppy sword-placement. The Round Table has even been designed to look its best with everyone's sword perfectly aligned. It's a designer Round Table.

Nevertheless, there's a lot missing from this Camelot; no Merlin, no Excalibur (Arthur's sword is special, but has no name), no Lady of the Lake, no Mordred, no Morgan Le Fay. Crucially, there is no sex. Lancelot (Richard Gere) meets Guinevere (Julia Ormond) when she's on her way to marry Arthur (Sean Connery). On the two occasions when they seem to be giving in to attraction, and carnal conversation is imminent, they are conveniently interrupted. Nor, apparently, is Guinevere's marriage to Arthur ever consummated.

It takes a certain amount of madness to turn a legend of adultery into a story about virginity tempted. The screenplay is by William "Shadowlands" Nicholson, who must surely know better. Let's hope that the Dark Ages whitewash was forced on him, to please those political forces who see Hollywood as a polluter of morals.

With Arthur turned from a betrayed husband into a disappointed bridegroom, no wonder Nicholson can't come up with much in the way of stirring dialogue for Connery. "Forgive me," breathes Guinevere, and Arthur says, "What's to forgive?" He goes on: "I dreamed a dream of you. It was a sweet dream." The Camelot legend isn't merely sweetened by these changes - there's even room now for a happy ending - it is denatured. A story about an idealistic society destroyed from within becomes a story about one threatened from outside, by the outcast knight Malagant. Malagant, who lives in a sort of Batcave in a slate-mine, complete with an oubliette hundreds of feet deep, is played by Ben Cross with an exaggerated villainy vainly awaiting its final push into high camp.

The actors just about manage not to sink without trace. Lancelot may possibly have been as smug as Richard Gere portrays him, giving equally patronising nods and shakes of the head when Guinevere successfully kills someone or denies her passion for him. Julia Ormond shows no special qualities, and some of her early scenes are awkward, but she bears no particular responsibility for the awfulness of the film.This Guinevere is supposed to be feisty and spunky and so on, but she still seems to need an awful lot of rescuing.

Sean Connery is the performer most thrown away by the director. He too starts uncertainly. His voice sounding like a Connery-impressionist's rather than the real thing. But by the time of Arthur's romantic disappointment he is getting a fair amount of mileage out of the role. Seeing Lancelot and Guinevere in a kiss, he stumbles and almost falls. It is at this point that Jerry Zucker chooses to do something clever, instead of trusting the great screen actor he has hired, and superimposes on Arthur's eye the burning brazier that sits in the middle of the round table.

Having created all sorts of gaps in the legend, Zucker fills them with increasingly preposterous action sequences. He seems not to have noticed that similar sequences in the Indiana Jones films contained a strong element of self parody. So Camelot boasts a machine called the Gauntlet, an immense assembly of cogs, swinging balls, sandbags and axes on pendulums, which no one has ever been able to get through. Just to underline the resemblance to American Gladiators, contestants climb into padded suits before they set off. The only jarring note is the absence of big hair and lycra, the crowd singing along to "Another One Bites the Dust".

There's something monotonous about ancient battle, don't you think? Just biff and clang. Zucker throws in some absurd weaponry to start with, notably some natty bows that you can fire one-handed - fully as plausible in period as Stealth Bombers. For extra surprise value in ambushes, Malagant men's sometimes disguise themselves as sheep.

In the dizziest sequence of all, Guinevere is kidnapped from Camelot. A boat arrives with a man claiming to bring news from her home kingdom of Leonesse. Guinevere hurries to greet him. As she does, Malagant's men bob up from the lake, where they have perhaps been masquerading as frogs, and hustle her on to the boat. The boat is winched back across the lake at high speed, positively aquaplaning by an arrangement of ropes and pulleys.

It's easy to sympathise with the knight who was supposed to be guarding Guinevere when Arthur demands explanations. What is the reason for this lapse of security? How was this allowed to happen? He can hardly say that Malagant has invented the hydrofoil.

footballHe started just four months ago
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Streets ahead: Venice
travelWhat's trending on your wishlist?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

    £40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

    Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect