It's been emotional, Guinevere: Ritchie to take on Camelot

Classic King Arthur tale to be 'reimagined' for modern audience by Guy Ritchie

Tom Mendelsohn
Thursday 11 March 2010 01:00

Lancelot, you muppet! One of England's most treasured legends, that of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, is to be "reimagined for a modern audience" by Guy Ritchie and the Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge.

Mr Ritchie, who became famous for his "mockney" gangster film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and for his now-dissolved marriage to Madonna, has been signed to the project by Warner Brothers. This follows his recent box-office success interpreting another British icon, Sherlock Holmes, which has made $470m (£314m) worldwide and rehabilitated Ritchie's image in the eyes of Hollywood's money men.

The Dark Ages tale of the sixth-century Celtic king who defended Britain against Saxon invaders will be based in part on Sir Thomas Malory's 1485 tract Le Morte d'Arthur, a compilation of English and French romances which prompted the myth. Written in relatively penetrable Middle English, it touches on Arthur's struggle against the Romans, and includes a quite racy (for its time) account of Lancelot and Guinevere's affair.

The film will centre around the gathering of the Knights – industry observers have described it as "The Magnificent Seven in armour" – and this of course leaves the door ajar for potential sequels.

Further details are sketchy this early in the writing process, but the producers of the frenzied Spartan action 300 are involved, which should guarantee unprecedented historicity for the project.

Malory and Ritchie have more in common than one might think. Le Morte d'Arthur was probably written in the early 1450s while Malory was in prison for a range of misdemeanours, including burglary, sheep-stealing, and an attempt to ambush Humphrey Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham. Ritchie, of course, has a well-documented love of ostentatious criminology.

Although details of Sir Thomas's life are sketchy, he probably did enough to qualify for a movie of his own. Putting our present-day parliamentarians in the shade, he committed several of his crimes while sitting as an MP and twice escaped from jail, on one occasion by fighting his way out with a variety of weapons and then swimming a moat.

Arthurian adaptations for the big screen do not always succeed – the director Antoine Fuqua's 2004 film King Arthur, starring Clive Owen as a Roman soldier during the last days of the empire in Britain, was a critical flop, although it did bank $203m (£136m) around the world.

Nor is Ritchie's work the only Arthur-flavoured project in development at Warner Brothers. Bryan Singer, who has directed movies in the Superman and X-Men franchises, is attached to a remake of the 1981 movie Excalibur, supporting the argument that Hollywood is running short on fresh ideas.

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