Wringing praise from critics for Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has been as challenging as, well, wriggling that stubborn blade from a stone. But the mythical landscape, filmed entirely in the United Kingdom, proves to be just the ticket…or at least, worth the price of one.
Here’s a quick look at the highs and lows of a movie which, at times, can be as challenging as the terrain.
If you’re a fan of Ritchie’s films, you probably won’t be disappointed in this action-packed popcorn gobbler. True to form, its filled with fast-paced banter, a throbbing modern soundtrack, and manic, crime caper-style energy, as Arthur (played with tough guy bravado by Charlie “Sons of Anarchy” Hunnam) and his merry band of miscreants have fun stormin’ the castle.
Admittedly, I could’ve done without the improbably oversized evil elephants. Ditto Ritchie’s dystopian vision of Camelot, which has nothing in common with the most congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering regaled in the 1960s musical Camelot, where “the rain may never fall ‘til after sundown.” (In England? If only.)
Ritchie’s kingdom, by contrast, is more akin to Mordor. It’s a dungeons-and-dark-magic fortress where you half expect an army of ornery orcs to charge in to aid Jude Law’s villainous King Vortigern, usurper to the throne.
The director’s decision to bequeath David Beckham a cameo as a scar-faced soldier has attracted a few derisive sniggers, but there’s one bit of casting Ritchie did get undeniably right. Namely, awarding some of the most magnificent settings in England, Scotland and Wales a guest starring role as Arthur’s legendary landscape.
VisitBritain has prepared an interactive map for those who wish to walk in Arthur’s footsteps and see the best of Great Britain for themselves. Read on below for the filmmakers’ top pick of UK film locations and behind-the-scenes scoop.
Behind the Scenes
Filming in the UK might seem a natural decision, but as location managers Amanda Stevens and Lottie Mason reveal, it almost didn’t happen.
Speaking ahead of a movie preview at London’s Covent Garden Hotel, the pair admit that they had originally considered shooting in Iceland or New Zealand, both renowned for their dramatic geography. “Then we thought, hang on, why aren’t we looking here?” Stevens recalls.
“We wanted to stay in the UK, because of the heritage of the legend,” Mason explains. “Every part of the UK has an Arthur story. Everybody owns him.”
Many of their most memorable scenes were filmed in Wales. Stevens felt Snowdonia National Park in North Wales perfectly captured the spirit of the Darklands, “a mythical land where Arthur goes walkabout and becomes a man.” It was also here where, as the camera crew perched on a narrow ledge atop a sheer granite cliff, several stuntmen took a daring, 85-foot-leap into the water.
In another scene set in Wales, Arthur, attempting to escape his fate as the future king, angrily casts Excalibur into a lake. The setting is particularly apt, as two Welsh lakes, Llyn Llydaw and Llyn Ogwen, both claim to be the resting place of the fabled blade…although in the film (spoiler alert!), it’s returned to him by a watery wench in a mud puddle.
For her part, Mason singles out the Quiraing on Scotland’s Isle of Skye as “the most spectacular place. The light is like something I’ve never seen before, like a different world,” she marvels.
Of course, there were practical bonuses to filming in Scotland and Wales, as well. “We didn’t need any security, because no one nicks anything!” Stevens jokes.
In England, she and Mason were especially partial to the ancient, towering trees of the Forest of Dean, and Windsor Great Park, where Prince Philip paid the crew a visit. But aside from the occasional, unexpected royal audience, Stevens says that Windsor Great Park boasts another perk for film makers. “Because its owned by the Queen,” she grins, “you don’t have to get planning permission.”
Stevens’ only regret is that they didn’t film in a castle, despite the fact that the UK is home to dozens of historic old piles, including Cornwall’s Tintagel, where Arthur was allegedly conceived. However, lighting, safety and ease of access dictated that the crew build their own Camelot castle, incongruously situated alongside England’s M25 highway. It’s probably just as well, as ol’ Camelot takes quite a beating, between the rampaging pachyderms and a giant snake that would’ve had Indiana Jones quaking in his boots.
As for the real-world locations, they remain as formidable and awe-inspiring as they have throughout the ages.
“We get very blasé about (Britain’s natural beauty),” Stevens says. “But hopefully, after seeing this film, more people will give the UK a chance.”