Tone- Boorman, the director said, "The film has to do with mythical truth, not historical truth. Keeping with this approach, the film is intentionally non-historical. For example, the opening titles state the setting to be the Dark Ages, even though the knights wear full plate armor, a technology of the 15th century. Knights, knighthood and the code of chivalry also did not exist during the period. Furthermore, Britain is never mentioned by name, only as "the land".
Morgana- The main antagonist, Arthur's half sister Morgana, takes on multiple roles from legend. Besides plainly being an analogue for the more murderous tales of Morgan le Fay, she replaces Morcades as the mother through incest of Arthur's son Mordred. She also replaces Nimue as the pupil of Merlin who entraps him in a cave.Lancelot- Lancelot's first appearance, challenging knights to joust him, and engaging Arthur in single combat leading to the breaking of the king's sword, is a role traditionally performed by King Pellinore. That Lancelot is sent to bring Guenevere to her wedding and the two falling in love at that time is taken from Tennyson's Idylls of the King. His madness is caused not by Guenevere's anger, but by the King discovering their affair. Interestingly, the movie Lancelot has the Grail image on his shield, but does not participate in the Grail quest.
Perceval- Perceval appears at first as a simple rustic, like in his traditional portrayals. When he arrives at Camelot he is assigned to the kitchen, a duty of Gareth. Perceval rushes forward and is given an emergency knighthood by the king much like Griflet, and it is he that throws Excalibur back into the lake, a final duty usually performed by Griflet or Bedivere.
Arthur- In the film King Arthur takes on many of his standard roles, but also those of other characters. It is he that discovers Lancelot and Guinevere's affair, coming across them sleeping in each other's arms. He leaves the sword Excalibur there for them to discover, visually echoing the tale of Pelleas, Ettare, and Gawain. He is himself injured, and suffers, along with the land, much like the Fisher King, before being healed by the Grail.
"The Grail"- The quest for the Grail takes a deliberately non-Christian approach. The stroke that causes the Wasteland is caused by Excalibur itself, not the Spear of Longinus. The Grail is never identified as "Holy" and Christ is never mentioned. Arthur is wounded by a seemingly mystical bolt of lightning, becoming analogous to the Fisher King. In an interesting reversal, Perceval finds the Grail not by asking the correct questions, but by answering them.
Writer: Rospo Pallenberg
- King Arthur...Nigel Terry
- Morgana...Helen Mirren
- Lancelot...Nicholas Clay
- Guenevere...Cherie Lunghi
- Perceval...Paul Geoffrey
- Merlin...Nicol Williamson
- Mordred...Robert Addie
- Uther...Gabriel Byrne
- Gawain...Liam Neeson
- Kay...Niall O'Brien
- Leodegrance...Patrick Stewart
- Lot... Cirian Hinds
Liam Neeson would later act in Arthur the King (1985)
The myth of King Arthur brought once again to the screen. All the elements of Sir Thomas Malory's classic Le Morte d'Arthur are here: Uther Pendragon is given the mystical sword Excalibur by the wizard Merlin. At his death Uther buries the sword into a stone, and the next man that pull it out will be King of England. Years later Arthur, Uther's bastard son, removes Excalibur from the stone and becomes king. Guided by Merlin, Arthur marries Guenevere and gathers the Knights of the Round Table.
The Round Table's noble birth and tragic decline, and the heroic attempts to recover the Holy Grail are represented. The shifting balance of power between wily wizard Merlin and evil sorceress Morgana proves to be a great side plot. Morgana, Arthur's evil half-sister, sires a son with him and this son may prove to be his downfall.
The original screenplay for Excalibur contained several vingettes from the legends that did not appear in the finished film. Among them were Merlin's love of disguises, Guinevere being accused of using a poisoned apple to slay a knight, and a Morgana/Merlin relationship more in keeping with Tennyson. It is also implied in the original screenplay that Mordred's spear might be the Spear of Longinus.