Posts Tagged ‘Ben Cross’

It is curious to reflect that, as he settled comfortably into a prosperous middle age, Sean Connery seemed quite happy to spend most of his professional life in the middle ages, too. Think of a noteworthy Connery film from the mid-seventies to the mid-nineties and there’s a good chance it will feature our man swinging a sword and possibly wearing chain-mail, too: Robin and Marion, Highlander, The Name of the Rose (all right, he’s a monk in that one), Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves, Dragonheart… in retrospect it’s something of an achievement that he managed to wrench himself back to the present day for so many of his final films.

We can only ponder as to what quality Connery possessed that made him such a good fit for this sort of film – Terry Gilliam once spoke of Connery’s essentially telluric nature (in the context of why he would have been a poor choice to play Quixote), and he does have that unreconstructed alpha-male aura going on for him, which may indeed go quite well with tales of an earlier and simpler time. Whatever the reason, the result is a CV featuring such plum roles as Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart, William of Baskerville and (potentially the biggest of the lot) King Arthur.

This was a late-middle-ages role for Connery, coming in Jerry Zucker’s 1995 film First Knight. (Connery had previously played another of the great Arthurian roles, the Green Knight, in 1984’s Sword of the Valiant.) Zucker had scored a big hit with his previous film, the extravagant weepie Ghost, and this has the feel of a ‘classic’ Hollywood period movie, the spiritual successor to things like The Black Knight and Knights of the Round Table.  From the opening moments it goes full-bloodedly in search of the closest thing to Merrie Olde England camp you will ever find in a Hollywood movie of the 1990s.

King Arthur’s realm is finally at peace (it’s taken longer than usual, as he’s clearly in his sixties) and the monarch is intent on marrying, despite the lurking threat of a renegade knight (Ben Cross is playing the role of Malagant, who is essentially playing the role of Mordred in this version of the tale). Also wandering the realm is Lancelot (Richard Gere), who on this occasion is a charmingly roguish trickster leading an aimless life.

Prince Malagant is intent on taking over the land of Leonesse, which appears to be a titchy little realm between Malagant’s domain and that of Camelot, and this involves his men terrorising the local peasants (keen-eyed viewers may spot a young Rob Brydon hamming it up ferociously in the crowd scenes – Brydon was offered a bigger part but had to go and be at the birth of his child, or something). Playing Malagant’s chief lieutenant is Ralph Ineson, who – at the time of writing – is appearing (or not, depending on where you live) in the title role of David Lowery’s The Green Knight, and you have to wonder if the two facts are in any way connected.

Off the peasants stagger to tell the ruler of Leonesse, Guinevere (Julia Ormond). Her one-of-the-people credentials are established by the fact we initially find her playing football with another bunch of peasants. Lending the film some twinkly gravitas but making no substantial contribution to the plot is John Gielgud as her wise old mentor. It turns out that in addition to facing the threat of annexation, Guinevere has to decide whether or not to marry King Arthur. Needless to say she agrees.

However, on the way to Camelot, Malagant’s men have a go at kidnapping Guinevere, and she is only rescued by the timely arrival of Lancelot, whose charmingly roguish ways we have already been introduced to in the pre-credits sequence. Guinevere is soon roguishly charmed up to her eyeballs, but her sense of duty and self-respect require her to carry on to Camelot where she (and the audience) meet King Arthur (finally).

The film has been going for a bit by this point and it’s frankly a relief to finally meet Sean Connery, who is, after all, top-billed. To be honest, I find I can often take or leave these mid-to-late period Connery performances, as the actor often seems just a bit too ready to trade on his natural charisma and established screen persona rather than actually do any work. Here, though, he is rather good as the aged version of the King, a decent and just man, veteran of too many wars, who wears his vast authority very lightly. You can see why Guinevere loves him, but is it in truth a love with any fizz and wow to it? How does it, in fact, compare to the sizzling chemistry she clearly shares with Lancelot? Hopefully the threat of Malagant will somehow enable everyone to work through all their personal issues…

So: a story credit for Lorne Cameron, one for David Hoselton, and one for William Nicholson (who’s credited with the actual script). No story credit for either Chretien de Troyes or Thomas Malory, presumably because they just don’t have good enough lawyers (being dead for centuries can really affect your ability to get good legal help). Still, this is fairly recognisable as the classic story of the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, very much chopped down, speeded up and rendered digestible for the perceived requirements of a modern audience.

As you might expect, the various changes to the story inevitably impact on how it plays out – Lancelot meeting and falling for Guinevere before he even meets Arthur or becomes a knight really shifts the dynamic of the story – but none quite as much as the decision to dispense with virtually all of the mythic and mystical aspects of the story. So this is (spoiler incoming) a tale of the twilight and fall of King Arthur with no Mordred, no Morgan le Fay, no Merlin (not that you’d strictly speaking expect him to be around at this point), no Excalibur, no Avalon, and so on.

A non-mythological King Arthur movie is a curious choice but not necessarily a risible one; the 2004 film with Clive Owen made a similar choice, going all in on historicity and period detail and gritty realism. First Knight ditches all the mythology, but (as this is a family-friendly romantic adventure) can’t find anything to replace it. As a result the film fails to convince, either as fantasy or anything else. Even the romance feels rather turgid: Lancelot and Guinevere talk a lot about their feelings but they never come across to the audience; there is no actual sense of passion at any point, despite the fact that Ormond at least is working hard to convince. (Gere seems rather out of his comfort zone, to be honest.)

The result is one of those slick but bland movies that they seemed to make a lot of back in the 1990s. I suppose people with a taste for soft-focus romance in a cod-mediaeval setting may find it passes the time quite agreeably; the rest of it is not entirely bereft of interest – there are some interesting faces in the supporting cast, Ben Cross is not bad as the panto villain the film requires, and much of the fight choreography is likewise well up to standard – but it’s essentially unsatisfying as either an adventure film, a drama, or a screen version of one of Britain’s greatest myths.

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[Regular readers may recall that of a weekend I usually brighten the internet by reviewing a fantasy and/or horror movie.  Whether the subject of this post qualifies as such I leave to others to decide.]

Recently I have drawn some stick (yea, even from my nearest and dearest) for my determination not to watch the You-Know-What, an obsession with which is currently blighting the public life of our great nation. Thank God I don’t have to work today; viewing the proceedings has been written into the schedule and time-and-a-half is, frankly, not enough to make that worth my while. (In case you’re wondering, I spent the day watching the Ding-Trump snooker semi.)

Do not misunderstand me. I am wholly agnostic on the whole Monarchy/Republic issue, and, of course, I wish the couple all the best. I just don’t want to watch the damn wedding and feel rather insulted by the assumption that I do. (The last wedding I went to featured belly dancing, a Brezhnev impersonator, twenty drunken Kazakhs and boiled sheep’s intestines for everyone, so I can’t really imagine this one measuring up anyway.)  The Tory press and major broadcasters who’ve been going on and on and on about it in such a mindlessly chirpy way can all sod off, please, and take every inch of bunting and plastic union flag with them when they go.

However I decided to sit down and watch Mark Rosman’s William & Kate: The Movie, partly because I thought it might be cathartic, partly because I had a terrible desire to see something utterly lacking in any merit whatsoever. Well, having done so, the obvious thing to say is ‘HWEEEAAA-EEEE-AAAAA-EEEEEEEE-AAAAAAAAAARRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!’ but I feel this may not fully communicate everything which makes this American TV movie so special.

Wills is the one on the left, in case you were wondering.

Tasteful opening shots of Olde England lead to our being introduced to Wills (Nico Evers-Swindell), a likeable and well-meaning galoot who’s the scion of a gaggle of nutty old inbreds. ‘I can’t believe you’re all grown up,’ marvels Wills’ dad (Ben Cross), a particularly eccentric old buffer, as his son buggers off to university to study something really easy he has a chance of passing Art History. Quite where Wills’ mum is is not dwelt upon, but his dad clearly recalls their happy domestic life together. Hmmm.

Anyway also up in Edinburgh is spunky young Kate Middleton (Camilla Luddington, see following paragraph for my thoughts on her), latest of a long line of coal miners and air hostesses (or something, I can’t bring myself to do more than flick through the Daily Mail these days). Seemingly uniquely amongst the female student population, Kate has no designs upon Wills, although she does have a little jaw-droppy-open moment when she first passes him in the corridor. She also has an existing boyfriend, Trevor.

(I know what you’re thinking – ‘Camilla’ isn’t the most auspicious name for someone involved in this particular saga. And this actress is easy enough on the eye but she looks more like Eliza Dushku or that singer Jojo Levesque than the actual woman. I can think of glamour models who look more like Midders than this girl does.)

All the blokes wear pringle sweaters and everyone is incredibly posh, but apart from that it’s a bit like The Social Network for a bit, except that the script, acting and direction are all complete shite. Wills initially stands out in the Edinburgh crowd (this may be more due to the fact that he seems to be about seven feet tall than his Royal status, but, you know, inbreeding takes many forms) but eventually learns to blend in. The fact that all the students are visibly in their late twenties is a bit of a surprise, but, hey, it’s not as if this movie’s based on real life or anything.

Anyway Kate puts on a slinky dress at a fashion show which prompts Wills to try and cop off with her (that’s what breeding and public school do for a lad) even though Trevor is still on the scene. Soon enough, though, Kate resists Trev’s attempts to make her move to Oxford with him and he is given the shove, destined to spend the rest of his life in obscurity, watching himself being portrayed as a bit of a prick in terrible American TV movies.

With Trevor gone Kate goes down to Wills’ place for the weekend, along with all his other friends. Practically the first thing Wills’ dad says to her is ‘Can you handle a shotgun?’ Her proficiency in this department impresses the old boy no end and when Wills and Kate and the gang decide to all move into the same flat no objections are made.

Like all student flats, theirs is spotlessly clean and about the size of Heathrow Terminal One. Initially they are just good friends but soon enough their eyes are meeting significantly across the room at parties. Eventually Wills hesitantly and charmingly decides to press his suit vis-a-vis Kate by wrestling her into a hedge and sticking his tongue down her throat. Romance inevitably follows.

All the scenes of Wills and Kate, you know, at it, are tastefully done, with the real business happening out of shot. Maybe Camilla Luddington wasn’t game for anything else, in which case they should’ve gone for that glamour model I mentioned earlier. I’m practically certain she’d have been up for it.

I very rarely have noticeable physiological reactions to a movie but by this point in William & Kate the muscles in my face were cramping and something weird was going on with my tongue, almost as if it was trying to wedge itself down my throat so I would pass out.  I don’t know. Maybe this was some kind of autonomic reaction or something.

Anyway, the movie grinds relentlessly on in pretty much the same vein. Kate worries Wills isn’t serious about her when he snubs her at an official party. Wills apologises by singing karaoke to her on a skiing holiday and the relationship is made public. They leave university but Kate’s life is made a misery by the depredations of the vile paparazzi. Wills, of course, has never forgiven these scumbags for the way they treated his mum and their obsession with every detail of royal life (come on, Wills, give them a break – it’s not as like they actually made a crappy TV movie about her, or anything) and does his bit to help by getting Kate some sort of coach to help her. The coach is a bit of an Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS type (maybe it’s supposed to be Princess Michael of Kent, I don’t know), who teaches Kate important life skills like curtseying and how to get out of a car without flashing her pants.

As fate and the demands of a pedestrian three-act structure would have it, eventually Kate tires of Wills’ reluctance to commit and they part. Kate is distraught and takes to drinking red wine in the bath while reading made-up tabloid magazines. Crikey! Is a shock on the cards? Of course it bloody isn’t. All alone Wills starts to pine for Kate, especially after Kate’s mum (played, by the way, by Serena Scott Thomas, who got knocked off by James Bond in The World Is Not Enough and played a rogue Watcher in Buffy, and thus has just about the most distinguished CV of anyone involved in the whole movie) persuades her to put it about a bit.

Sure enough he turns up to see Kate and win her back. Unfortunately she is coaching some kind of dragon-boat racing team at the time and so for them to speak one of them has to dive in the river and swim over to where the other one is. Now you would expect this to be the guy in a normal romance, but on this occasion it’s Kate. Hmm. More on this in a bit.

Anyway, they reconcile, fly off to a Kenya constituted entirely of stock footage and unconvincing studio sets (rather in the style of Prehistoric Women, but I doubt this is a conscious homage), he slips a ring on her, and six months of nightmare begin for all right-thinking people of Anglophone nations. The end. Thank God.

Well, obviously it’s awful from start to finish. I sort of suspect that even the people making it knew it was going to be awful, but they weren’t allowed to do any wink-to-the-camera type stuff, probably because the people who lap this kind of stuff up (and, dear God, there are enough of them) would not be remotely impressed if they did.

And, in accordance with my standard dictum that there are no bad movies, only boring ones, William & Kate does say interesting things about a certain kind of mentality. Lumberingly handsome though he is throughout (and Nico Evers-Swindell’s hair remains apparent rather better than the real Wills’ has), our hero is presented as a sort of genial halfwit throughout. Virtually every decision he makes throughout the movie (apart from the one to win her back at the end, of course) is made in accordance with Kate’s advice to him. The big draw for him is that she seems willing and able to do his thinking for him, while the attraction on her part is… less clear. He’s tall and handsome, I suppose, and sort of endearingly useless.

Nevertheless the film comes down pretty firmly on Kate’s side, as the spirited commoner struggling with her love for, like, an actual prince, in the face of oppressive Royal protocol and the general awfulness of British public life. I suspect this is because this film is made for a) girls and women of limited emotional and/or intellectual capacity and b) Americans.

The Royal family hasn’t had a great record in the marital department of late (then again, who am I to criticise) and while I’m not actually hoping for unpleasantness between the Cambridges, part of me almost wants to suggest everyone keeps a copy of this movie on hand just in case, so they can watch it then and feel suitably chastised for going so soaringly over-the-top about the whole business in the first place. At least then William & Kate: the Movie might justify its existence – I can’t really think of any other way it might manage that, to be honest.

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