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.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

    £32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam