The Sword and the Cinema

Beauty and the Beast, the “tale as old as time,” will grace the screen in 2017 as Disney’s latest reinvention of the wheel – revisiting the animated retelling of a classic story and turning it into a live-action blockbuster (even though live-action versions of these stories have already been produced by other companies – several times). So far, we’ve seen Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella clean up at the box office, and Disney has murmured about many more. Earlier this week, Disney announced that a live-action Sword in the Stone is in development.

Disney, however, isn’t the only studio revisiting King Arthur’s court.

Although it’s still far from casting, Disney’s remake is currently headed by scriptwriter Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones), who is bravely going where many have gone before. Like many Disney films, the animated Sword in the Stone is based on a book, and that book is based on mythology. So Mr. Cogman is actually leading the charge to re-imagine an interpretation of a re-imagining. Because when it comes to mythology, one layer of re-interpretation just isn’t enough. The Sword in the Stone is a loose interpretation of the first section of T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King, from whence it borrowed its title. The book is a classic in its own right, and Disney really just pick-pocketed the narrative for loose imagery. However, using the Arthurian novelization was a brilliant idea, because if there’s one story people never get tired of, it’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Next year, Guy Ritchie will be presenting a new interpretation. Charlie Hunnam (Queer as Folk, Pacific Rim, Sons of Anarchy) will play Arthur. Judging by the roles listed on IMDB, the story pulls more from the history of the myth than the popularized versions of the story. There are characters called “Londinum fighter” and “Viking,” implying a tumultuous setting closer to the end of the Roman occupation of England than the shining days of plate armor and tournaments (and dirty, dirty peasants). While Ritchie has tipped his hand as far as the setting is concerned, it’s a little harder to figure out which part of the Arthur saga he’s tapping into.

Where The Sword in the Stone focuses strictly on Arthur’s rise from obscurity to kingship, there is a good deal of story concerning his parents, Arthur’s governance of his knights, and the great tragedy of his fall. A number of (fairly) recent productions have featured Arthur’s heritage (BBC’s Merlin, Hallmark’s Merlin, HBO’s Camelot). As you can tell by the titles of these shows, Merlin plays an important role in the making of Arthur (all puns intended). Guy Ritchie has cast Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Tempest) as Sir Bedivere, a role Ritchie is rumored to be combining with Merlin’s. Add to this the fact that Jude Law and Eric Bana have been cast to play Vortigern and Uther Pendragon, and it raises some serious questions. Are Law and Bana, both major A-list actors, only in the film for a brief intro to draw a bigger audience, or is this film going to explore less-known portions of Arthurian legend? Judging from plot rumors, the traditional Arthurian timeline isn’t at all relevant in Ritchie’s film. Nor, perhaps, is traditional Arthurian plot.

Will Ritchie’s attempt at an original interpretation of the classic myth only make audiences eager to indulge in the nostalgia of Disney’s remake? Will Disney’s reinterpretation of a film, of a book, of a story fail to gain a true third dimension in comparison with Ritchie’s adult-oriented swash-buckler? Only time will tell. And tell again. And again. And again.

And we’ll keep filling the seats.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.


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