The Camelot legend has come to the screen in many forms—from art film and action flick to the new-to-tape First Knight. But whatever the genre, the central triangle’s always the same: King Arthur versus Sir Lancelot, for the love of Guinevere. Invariably, of course, the lady favors Lance, but sometimes the best man truly is the king. Herewith, a roundup of Round Table romances.
Knights of the Round Table (1953, MGM/UA) The Telling: Grand-scale CinemaScope costume epic. The Triangle: Arthur (Mel Ferrer) is noble, wise, and true. Lancelot (Robert Taylor) is straight as an arrow—and stiff as a board. Come to think of it, so is Guinevere (Ava Gardner). Arthur’s too good for either.
Sword of Lancelot (1963, MCA/ Universal) The Telling: Tacky, clunky period pageantry. The Triangle: Arthur (Brian Aherne) is a silly old simp; Lancelot (Cornel Wilde) struggles with his faux French accent. Can you blame Guin (Jean Wallace) for getting herself to a nunnery?
Camelot (1967, Warner) The Telling: Lerner and Loewe’s musical. The Triangle: Richard Harris’ tortured Arthur talks his way through the title tune. Franco Nero’s hunky Lancelot blurts ”If Ever I Would Leave You” in an unintentionally funny tenor profundo. Vanessa Redgrave’s Guinevere can’t sing either—but she’s magnificent anyway. She and Harris strike sparks; Nero gets blown off the screen.
Lancelot of the Lake (1974, New Yorker) The Telling: French art-house deconstruction by director Robert Bresson, with knights who camp near a farmhouse Camelot. The Triangle: Arthur (Vladimir Antolek-Oresek) is depressed because he can’t find the Holy Grail. Lancelot (Luc Simon) is racked by guilt over sleeping with the queen. Call them glum and glummer—and since Guinevere (Laura Duke Condominas) is glummest of all, she deserves whomever she gets.
Excalibur (1981, Warner) The Telling: Blood-and-thunder mythologizing. The Triangle: Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) is young, courageous, and handsome. But then, so is Arthur (Nigel Terry). Spunky Guinevere (Cherie Lunghi) might have had better chemistry with anyone in the then-unknown supporting cast, which includes Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Stewart.
First Knight (1995, Columbia TriStar) The Telling: A Camelot for the ’90s: no Merlin, no Excalibur, no Holy Grail, but lots of speed-metal swordplay. The Triangle: Sean Connery’s august Arthur is old enough to be Guinevere’s granddad, while Richard Gere’s hip Sir Lance fights like a ninja, walks like a gigolo, and talks like…Richard Gere. Camelot is lost!