King Arthur in Film: Our Most Enduring Popular Entertainment Franchise? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #104

With the recent the­atri­cal release of The Green Knight, your Pret­ty Much Pop host Mark Lin­sen­may­er, return­ing host Bri­an Hirt, plus Den of Geek’s David Crow and the very British Al Bak­er con­sid­er the range of cin­e­mat­ic Arthuri­ana, includ­ing Excal­ibur (1981), Camelot (1967), King Arthur (2004), King Arthur: Leg­end of the Sword (2017), First Knight (1995), Sword of the Valiant (1983), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1973), and Mon­ty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

Arthuri­ana encom­pass­es numer­ous (some­times con­tra­dict­ing) sto­ries that accrued and evolved for near­ly 1000 years after the prob­a­ble exis­tence of the unknown per­son who was the his­tor­i­cal source for the char­ac­ter before the 14th cen­tu­ry poem (author unknown) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and then in the 15th cen­tu­ry Sir Thomas Mal­o­ry wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, which pro­vid­ed the tem­plate for well-known mod­ern retellings like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (1958).

The length and com­plex­i­ty of this mythol­o­gy makes a sin­gle film prob­lem­at­ic, with most set­tling on the love tri­an­gle between Arthur, Lancelot, and Guin­e­vere lead­ing to Camelot’s down­fall. Mul­ti­ple TV treat­ments have tried to do it jus­tice, and if Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Leg­end of the Sword had been a box office suc­cess, then we’d cur­rent­ly be see­ing mul­ti­ple films in an Arthuri­an cin­e­mat­ic uni­verse. By pick­ing a small­er sto­ry and not try­ing too hard to tie it to King Arthur (who appears but is not named), The Green Knight is able to be more cre­ative in paint­ing and updat­ing the strange sto­ry of Sir Gawain, who in pre­vi­ous cin­e­mat­ic out­ings (includ­ing Sword of the Valiant where Sean Con­nery played The Green Knight) involved Gawain involved in a series of non­sen­si­cal adven­tures far removed from the events told in the orig­i­nal poem.

We talk through char­ac­ter­i­za­tion in a myth­ic sto­ry, styl­iz­ing the epic (how much vio­lence? how weird?), its sta­tus as pub­lic domain mate­r­i­al (like Robin Hood and Sher­lock Holmes), and the moral les­son of the orig­i­nal Gawain poem and what direc­tor David Low­ery did with that for the new film. Is the new film actu­al­ly enjoy­able, or just care­ful­ly thought through and art­ful­ly shot? Note that we don’t spoil any­thing sig­nif­i­cant about The Green Knight until the last ten min­utes, so it’s fine if you haven’t seen it (Al had­n’t either).

Here are song arti­cles by David Crow on our top­ic:

Oth­er arti­cles we used to prep for this includ­ed:

The YouTube ver­sions of the source mate­r­i­al that Mark lis­tened to are here and here, and the rel­e­vant Great Cours­es offer­ing is here.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

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