“I think the best narratives take a man on a journey that transcends his limitations and allows him to evolve from his most basic nature into someone worthy of a bigger life,”
Acclaimed filmmaker Guy Ritchie brings his dynamic style to the epic fantasy action adventure King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, an iconoclastic take on the classic Excalibur myth, tracing Arthur’s journey from the streets to the throne.
Everyone knows the fabled Arthurian legend…or at least thinks they do. But in the hands of director Guy Ritchie, the tale takes on a decidedly gritty, modern edge and Arthur himself, not yet king, is instead a ruffian, a thoroughly reluctant hero compelled to discover his true destiny even as he fights against the very monarchy he is meant to rule.
“I think the best narratives take a man on a journey that transcends his limitations and allows him to evolve from his most basic nature into someone worthy of a bigger life,” says Ritchie, who also co-wrote and produced the film. “In our version of the story, Arthur’s life starts small: an urchin in a brothel, running the streets, learning to fight and dodging the law with his mates. Then the actions of others—some with good, some with not-so-good intentions—force him to expand his vision of who he could be.”
When the child Arthur’s father is murdered, Arthur’s uncle, Vortigern (Jude Law), seizes the crown. Robbed of his birthright and with no idea who he truly is, Arthur (Charlue Hunnam) comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city. But once he pulls the sword from the stone, his life is turned upside down and he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy.
For Guy Ritchie, it was the boy’s destination that held the strongest attraction for him as a landscape for King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The origin story called for an unusual setting, one far from anything royal.
“I was always fascinated by the idea of Roman London and the lack of physical evidence of it that remains now,” Ritchie relates. “Though it’s arguably been the world’s capital for two millennia, apart from maybe Constantinople and Rome, London is a victim of its own success and has obliterated much of its history. Very few people know that London was once Londinium, a thriving Roman city, most of which is 15 or 20 feet underground by now thanks to the sheer quantity of buildings that have been built on top of it. So we created our own version of it.”
Guy Ritchie (Director/Producer/Screenplay) is an accomplished storyteller who has been entertaining audiences with his dynamic cinematic style for nearly two decades.
Ritchie began his career in Britain’s film industry in 1993 as a runner on Wardour Street, working his way up to a director of music videos and commercials. In 1995, he wrote and directed his first short film, “The Hard Case,” about four cockney guys raising money to enter a card game, which formed the basis for his first feature film.
Ritchie made his writing and directing feature film debut with Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. Made on a modest budget of $1 million and breathing new life into its genre, the film premiered at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, became one of the UK’s biggest hits and remains a favorite.
His recent credits include directing the acclaimed blockbusters Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a fresh take on the hugely popular 1960s television series.
He directed King Arthur: Legend of the Sword from a screenplay by Joby Harold and Ritchie & Lionel Wigram, story by David Dobkin and Joby Harold.
A Q & A with Guy Ritchie
What is your first memory of King Arthur? Was it from a book or film?
GUY RITCHIE: I think it was [director] John Boorman’s interpretation, Excalibur, which had an impact on me. It had bold music; everyone shouted at one another; and it was memorable. It was a commitment.
What was the key to reimagining this timeless legend?
GUY RITCHIE: The film is conspicuous with ideas, themes and style that come naturally to me. The fantasy aspect was necessary to make it worthy of cinema. So it was a fusion of several components. There was a fantasy aspect, which made it worthy of the big screen, and which still fits within the King Arthur mythology. I also liked the idea that Arthur’s origins really begin as a seriously urban, underprivileged youth—before reverting to his aristocratic roots. One could call that the journey of man, I suppose.
Did you have a favourite scene to shoot?
GUY RITCHIE: Probably every day. I enjoy my job and I don’t think one scene trumps another.
How did Charlie Hunnam fight to land the role of Arthur?
GUY RITCHIE: Charlie wasn’t on my top ten list of actors for the role. But he insisted he was going to get himself in the room, and he was established enough to finagle his way into that room. He just ground down the competition until I surrendered and cast him. From there, I knew he was going to be the right man. We have a very similar sensibility, in terms of humour and our interest in film. So it was a shorthand with Charlie all the way through production.
How did Charlie change, physically, for the role?
GUY RITCHIE: When he arrived to discuss the role, he was a bit slight, but his ability trumped that. By the time filming began Charlie had stuck on about 20 pounds of muscle.
The film represents world-building on a greater scale than you’ve done before. What was that like for you?
GUY RITCHIE: Honestly, I’ve worked harder on this film than any other I’ve done. Creating this world involved music, fantasy, visual effects and humour—and then bringing together these components so that they don’t feel disparate.
How did you communicate your vision for the music to composer, Daniel Pemberton?
GUY RITCHIE: I find that the biggest challenge with many composers is simplicity. Some of the greatest pieces of music are some of the simplest pieces of music, and in my experience, musicians are inherently frightened of giving you something simple. Daniel is an original voice within that world, and I encouraged him to be bold, in being both exotic and simple.
Charlie said that you camped out on location with him and a few others during production. What can you tell us about that?
I have a Winnebago that I converted into a log cabin. I’ve found that people are very happy to reside amongst wood, but not so with Formica. The world of film location trailers is Formica and plastic, so we changed that. The interior is like a log cabin; there’s a wood-burning stove and guitars on the walls. I wish we’d done that sooner. We’ve created a mobile hotel that’s both aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian.
Do you think the time is right now for a film like this?
GUY RITCHIE: I think ultimately there’s a curious paradox between individual identity, cultural identity, national identity and a world identity—a collective identity. You have to have both and that’s the paradox. The paradox is to be authentic within your culture and environment but also exist in a world that’s accepting and broad.