Camelot is a 1967 American musical drama film directed by Joshua Logan and starring Richard Harris as King Arthur, Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere, and Franco Nero as Lancelot. The film is an adaptation of the homonymous musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. Lerner also wrote the screenplay.
In the opening scene, King Arthur (Richard Harris) is preparing for a great battle against his friend, Sir Lancelot (Franco Nero), a battle he does not wish to fight but has been forced into. Arthur reflects on the sad circumstances which have led him to this situation, and asks his childhood mentor, Merlyn, for advice. Merlyn appears to him and tells Arthur to think back.
Arthur thinks back to the night of his marriage to his now-estranged wife, Guinevere (Vanessa Redgrave). It is an arranged marriage, and he has never met her before. He is understandably afraid of what lies ahead ("I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight"). His solitude is broken by Guinevere and her entourage. Guinevere is also worried about marrying a man she has never met, and longs for an easier life ("The Simple Joys of Maidenhood"). Like Arthur, she flees from her entourage to reflect on her future. Arthur (overhearing Guinevere and realizing who she is) accidentally falls out of the tree in which he is hiding. He and Guinevere converse, as she does not know his true identity, and realize they have things in common. Arthur tells her what a wonderful place his kingdom is ("Camelot") and they almost kiss, but are interrupted by men sent to find Arthur. The king's identity is revealed, and although Arthur gives Guinevere the chance to leave she gladly goes back with him to be married.
The plot shifts to five years later. Arthur confides to Guinevere his idea for a "Round Table" that would seat all the noble knights of the realm, reflecting not only a crude type of democratic ideal, but also the political unification of England. Knights are shown gathering from all over England. The plot shifts another five years, and word of Arthur's Round Table spreads to France. Inspired by Arthur’s ideas, the self-righteous French knight Lancelot makes his way to England with his squire Dep, boasting of his superior virtues ("C'est Moi"). Lancelot's prowess impresses Arthur and they become friends, but many of the knights despise Lancelot for his self-righteousness. Back in Camelot, Guinevere and the women frolic and gather flowers to celebrate the coming of spring and ("The Lusty Month of May")
Guinevere, who initially dislikes Lancelot, incites three of the best knights – Sir Lionel, Sir Sagramore, and Sir Dinadan – to challenge him to a joust ("Take Me to the Fair"). Arthur ponders this discord and how distant Guinevere has become recently ("How to Handle a Woman"). However, Guinevere's plan goes awry as Lancelot easily defeats all three, critically wounding Sir Dinadan. A horrified Lancelot pleads for Sir Dinadan to live, and as he lays hands on him, Dinadan miraculously recovers. Guinevere is so overwhelmed and humbled that her feelings for Lancelot begin to change. Despite his vows of celibacy, Lancelot falls in love with Guinevere, leading to the famous love triangle involving Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. The other knights are aware of the clandestine meetings between Lancelot and Guinevere. They accuse Lancelot repeatedly, and several knights are banished after losing their armed challenges.
Soon afterwards, it is revealed that, despite his vows of celibacy, Lancelot is in love with Guinevere, leading to the famous love triangle involving Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. Guinevere knows it is wrong and tries to get Lancelot out of her life, but he refuses to leave ("If Ever I Would Leave You"). Arthur realizes something is going on between Lancelot and Guinevere but cannot bring himself to alienate either of them, and so turns a blind eye. Mordred (David Hemmings), Arthur's illegitimate son from an affair with Morgause (Arthur's unknown half-sister in some versions of the legend), arrives at Camelot, bitter at Arthur's refusal to recognize him and determined to bring down the fellowship of the Round Table by stirring up trouble. All this takes its toll on Arthur's disposition, and Guinevere tries, but fails, to cheer him up ("What Do the Simple Folk Do?").
Mordred cunningly convinces Arthur to stay out hunting all night as a test, knowing Lancelot will visit Guinevere in her bedchamber. Everything happens as Mordred expected. Guinevere admits her feelings for Lancelot but still feels guilty ("I Loved You Once in Silence"). Mordred rouses several knights and they catch the lovers together, as he planned. Lancelot escapes but Guinevere is arrested and sentenced to die at the stake. Arthur, who has promoted the rule of law throughout the story, is now bound by his own law—he can make no special exceptions for his own wife. Preparations are made for Guinevere's burning ("Guinevere"), but Lancelot rescues her at the last minute, much to Arthur's relief.
In the film’s final scene, we return to the opening. Arthur is preparing for battle against Lancelot, at the insistence of his knights who want revenge, and England appears headed into the Dark Ages. He suddenly receives a surprise visit from Lancelot and Guinevere, who has become a nun. Arthur and Guinevere share an emotional farewell. The battle must continue, however. Prior to the battle, Arthur stumbles across a young boy named Tom, who wishes to become a Knight of the Round Table. Arthur is skeptical at first, but Tom espouses his commitment to Arthur's original ideal of "Not might makes right, but might for right." Arthur realizes that, although most of his plans have fallen through, the ideals of Camelot still live on in this simple boy. Arthur knights Tom and gives him his orders—run behind the lines and survive the battle, so he can tell future generations about the legend of Camelot. Watching Tom leave, Arthur regains his hope for the future ("Finale Ultimo").
Differences between stage and screen versions
Several songs were omitted from the film version: "The Jousts", a choral episode in which the jousts, which occur offstage in the play, are described (in the film they are shown); "Before I Gaze At You Again", sung by Guinevere to an offstage Lancelot; "The Seven Deadly Virtues", sung by Mordred; "Persuasion", sung in a scene not in the film, in which Mordred persuades Morgan Le Fay, who is omitted from the film's screenplay, to conjure up an enchantment to keep Arthur in the forest so that Guinevere and Lancelot's affair can be exposed; and "Fie On Goodness!", sung by the knights, in which they bemoan the fact that they are no longer allowed to administer punishment no matter how inappropriate, but according to the law. (Actually, some of these songs were cut during the original Broadway run of "Camelot", because they made the play too long. However, they were restored for the London production starring Laurence Harvey and Elizabeth Larner.)
The lyrics of the song "Follow Me", which was sung in the play by the water nymph Nimue to entice Merlyn to her cave, were completely rewritten and the song was sung by an offscreen chorus in a new scene written for the film. Nimue does not appear in the film.
- Richard Harris as King Arthur
- Nicolas Beauvy as young Arthur
- Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere
- Franco Nero as Lancelot
- David Hemmings as Mordred
- Lionel Jeffries as King Pellinore
- Laurence Naismith as Merlyn
- Pierre Olaf as Dap
- Estelle Winwood as Lady Clarinda
- Gary Marshal as Sir Lionel
- Anthony Rogers as Sir Dinadan
- Peter Bromilow as Sir Sagramore
- Sue Casey as Lady Sibyl
- Gary Marsh as Tom of Warwick
While the official running time was 179 minutes plus overture, entrance and exit music, only the 70mm blow up prints and 35mm magnetic stereo prints contained that running time. The general release version ran 150 minutes. Cuts were made in dialogue throughout the film and entire stanzas were removed from a number of songs including "C'est Moi" and "What Do the Simple Folk Do?". Omitted scenes include Arthur explaining what he means when he says that Merlyn lives backwards, and the entire flashback of Arthur in the forest recalling Merlyn's schoolhouse.
Television broadcasts and home video versions contain the complete, uncut copy of the movie. The shorter general release version has not been seen since the film's 1973 re-release.
William Johnson noted that “some of Arthur’s speeches could be applied directly to Vietnam,” such as Arthur’s “Might for Right” ideal and repeated musings over borderlines. At the same time, Alice Grellner suggested the movie served as “an escape from the disillusionment of Vietnam, the bitterness and disenchantment of the antiwar demonstrations, and the grim reality of the war on the evening television news” and reminder of John F. Kennedy’s presidency.
John F. Kennedy’s presidency became inextricably linked to Camelot after his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, revealed in a Life article following his assassination that it had been one of his favorite records, particularly the lines “Don’t let it be forgot/That once there was a spot/For one brief shining moment/that was known as Camelot.” Davidson, in “The Reel Arthur,” notes that there are no true correspondences between Kennedy and Arthurian characters, which was fortunate considering the film centered around an adulterous love triangle. In creating the association between Kennedy’s presidency and Camelot, Jackie Kennedy connected her husband to the hope, goodness, and glamour of Camelot. She wanted her husband to be remembered as “well-meaning, fallibly human but ultimately idealistic,” devoted to his country’s interests above his own. Although this association helped drive ticket sales to the musical, the movie performed poorly at the box office, with many viewing it as poorly made.
As of October 2014, Camelot holds a Rotten Tomatoes ranking of 50% and an IMDb rating of 67%. Film Quarterly’s William Johnson called Camelot “Hollywood at its best and worst,” praising the film’s ideals and Harris and Redgrave’s performances but bemoaning its lavish sets and three-hour-running time. Bosley Crowther from the New York Times called Redgrave “dazzling” but criticized the film’s conflicting moods and uncomfortable close-ups. Crowther felt the main characters were not sufficiently fleshed out to evoke any sympathy from the audience, concluding that the filmed lacked “magic.”
The film, nominated for five Academy Awards, won three for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (John Truscott, Edward Carrere, John W. Brown), Best Costume Design (John Truscott), and Best Music-Scoring of Music (Adaptation or Treatment) (Alfred Newman, Ken Darby). It was also nominated for Best Cinematography (Richard Kline) and Best Sound. It also won three Golden Globe Awards and was nominated for an additional three.
Richard Harris won the 1968 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2004: AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs:
- "Camelot" – Nominated
- Main article: Camelot (soundtrack)
- "Prelude/Overture" – Orchestra
- "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight" – Arthur
- "The Simple Joys of Maidenhood" – Guinevere
- "Camelot" – Arthur
- "Camelot" (Reprise) – Guinevere, Arthur and Chorus
- "C'est Moi" – Lancelot
- "The Lusty Month of May" – Guinevere and Women
- "Take Me to the Fair" – Guinevere, Lionel, Dinadan and Sagramore
- "How to Handle a Woman" – Arthur
- "If Ever I Would Leave You" – Lancelot
- "What Do the Simple Folk Do?" – Guinevere and Arthur
- "I Loved You Once in Silence" – Guinevere
- "Follow Me"/"Children's Chorus" – Chorus
- "Guinevere" – Chorus
- "Finale Ultimo" – Arthur and Tom
- "Exit Music"
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