Of course you’ve heard of the legendary King Arthur, and about his magician Merlin and his Knights of the Round Table, but have you ever heard of the creepy Vortigern? Soon you are going to know all about him. Because Guy Ritchie, the director of the Sherlock Holmes films (2009, 2011)), has recruited the heartthrob Jude Law, who performed his Dr Watson, to play Vortigern in his new film: King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword. This is the man who has twice got movies’ Best Kiss Award!
Vortigern was a warlord in Britain’s fifth century, whose existence, unlike King Arthur’s, has never been doubted. We actually know quite a bit about him. He was unbelievably handsome, ambitious, treacherous, menacing, cruel but ultimately he was remembered for his foolishness. In an effort to protect his northern land around the Humber River from marauding Picts and Scots, Vortigern brought across boatloads of Saxons from Germany as mercenaries to fight them. That’s the reason the Britons call him the Great Betrayer for his folly in encouraging the invasion of Saxons, who would ultimately overwhelm Britain and call it their own. In my novel, A Darker Magic This Way Comes Vortigern is an evil man, he lies, he double- crosses, he poisons, he rapes and he murders both his parents to gain the throne. He is sentenced to the gruesome triple death by a gathering of kings.
Jude Law, who has been described as ‘catnip to women’ is a brave man taking on the role of Vortigern. But then he is a film star, who in his career of over fifty movies, has chosen many brave roles. He played he spoiled playboy Dickie Greenleaf in: The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), the psychotic mob hitman in Road to Perdition (2002), the womaniser in Alfie (2004), the playboy, Errol Flynn, in The Aviator (2004), the super villain in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) and the chain-smoking, ultra-orthodox His Holiness Pius XIII, in the TV mini-series, The Young Pope. (2016) He also played the title role in Hamlet (2009). So Jude Law has played a rogues’ gallery of murderers and manipulators.
When you view the trailer of King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword you can see that this is a movie that teens will love. It looks about as far away as it’s possible to go from past attempts like the opulent sets and operatic pace John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) or the grand gaudiness and musical comedy of Alan Jay Lerner’s Camelot (1967). This movie is closer in its feel to Clive Owen’s King Arthur (2004) but it is grittier and earthier because Ritchie’s new Arthur is more like a street fighter than a king. Guy Ritchie has a very characteristic manner of telling any story which his movie followers love. He has distinctive dialogue with a sharp cutting visual style and this movie is no exception. He has Charlie Hunnam playing Arthur as an edgy bad boy who alternates between dark brooding and rough and tumble street fighting.
It begins with an official questioning Arthur about his life and he does not seem to know much about it. He doesn’t seem to know who he is and why he is there. Perhaps he is in jail. Shortly later you see him with another man a man who in the Arthurian legend is his best friend Bedwyr or Bedivere played by the African actor Djimon Hounsou. They are running very hard from someone and escape by jumping off a cliff and into a river far below. This scene is a replay of the plunge of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to escape their pursuers. Thus begins one of the trailer’s purposes to establish Arthur as an unforgettable action hero. Next we see him street fighting (where? Londinium?) and soldiers(Roman?) wagering on him to win. It cuts to more questions from the mysterious official. Once again Arthur can’t answer them.
Then we see Eric Bana (playing Uther Pendragon, Arthur’s father) hurrying with a bundled baby. Is he taking his infant Arthur to safety? Elsewhere in an interview we are told Uther is King Vortigern’s brother and he is killed by Vortigern in battle so Vortigern can usurp his throne. Arthur, it seems, does not know he is a king and will acknowledge his birthright only after he pulls the sword from the stone. There are two brief shots of Vortigern (one without a crown, another with a crown and a vast army.) We get flashes of a contorted Morgana and of other characters but we are not sure who they are or what their significance is. There are a range of otherworldly effects and creatures to imply fantasy. The director, Guy Ritchie, at this stage, has hidden his plot.
And what about Jude Law? As the immoral, cold blooded Vortigern, he looks tough in chainmail and he is all rippling muscles in his royal robes. As an actor he has the rich smooth voice and the brazen green eyes that allows him to play either the ideal king or wickedest villain. It will be enthralling to see what he does with Vortigern.