The top films in a specific category is always a matter that inspires much debate. As a lover of everything Arthurian, and faerie, and films (especially classic films) I think I am qualified to tell you my personal top ten list of Arthurian adaptions!
Number 10: Avalon High
~This Disney Channel Original Film turns the Arthurian cannon on its ear by setting it in the modern day with high school students as the reincarnation of members of Arthur’s court! It is based on the novel by Meg Cabot (of Princess Diaries fame).
Number 9: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
~Now this is not a traditional Arthurian imagining in the least, but it is a hilarious homage to the Arthurian legends and the famed quest for the Holy Grail! Personally I feel you cannot go wrong with anything featuring John Cleese!
Number 8: First Knight
~This movie takes on the famed love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. In this version Arthur is a King much older than his Queen and she falls in love with Lancelot, who is young and virile. Arthur is played by the amazing Sean Connery (personally my absolute favorite James Bond!). Richard Gere portrays Lancelot and Julia Ormand is his Guinevere. Well worth a watch for those who love romance, like myself!
Number 7: Merlin
~This television miniseries may not be technically a film, but I cannot help but list an adaptation that features Lena Heady (of Game of Thrones fame, she after all played Cersei Lannister) as Guinevere, and Helena Bonham Carter as Morgan Le Fey! Helena Bonham Carter is fabulous in everything she does, and works incredibly well in period pieces. Now this version of the story of Merlin (played by Sam Neill) begins with his birth as a part fey and his being taken and raised by Queen Mab (Miranda Richardson, who also plays the Lady of the Lake). As he grows his story remains similar to other tellings, and this 1998 mini series is so enjoyable to watch!
Number 6: The Sword in the Stone
~This Disney animated film is a telling of the first part of T.H. White’s Once and Future King. The story follows a young boy being raised by a wizard who finds his destiny is to unite all of Britain under his rule as King. It is charming and a faery tale in the Disney sense, and I will always have love for it because of that!
Number 5: Tristan & Isolde
This film tells the famous Arthurian tale of Tristan and Isolde (or sometimes Iseult). James Franco plays the young knight who falls in love with an Irish princess as she heals him after battle. Then he fights to gain the hand of a princess for his king to marry, and finds out the hard way that the hand he has won is the beautiful woman who saved his life. The two are tormented by their love for one another being a possible betrayal of King Mark. Yet, they cannot keep away from one another and the story leads to tragedy, as does that famous other Arthurian love story of Lancelot and Guinevere!
Number 4: Camelot
~This musical film is based on the stage musical that starred Richard Burton and Julie Andrews. Now I adore Richard Burton, and wish he could have played Arthur in this, but Richard Harris does an exemplary job in the lead role. Vanessa Redgrave plays a great Guinevere, in a role that is flighty and flirty, and quite appropriate for the free love sensibility of the Summer of Love (it was released in 1967). On a side note Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero fell in love during filming! That means in this version Lancelot and Guinevere were really in love!
Number 3: Dragonheart
~This film is about a prince that forms a special bond with a dragon. Set very much in the world of Celtic Britain during Roman occupation it fits within the Arthurian cannon. They even end up going to Avalon and taking shelter with Arthur and his knights!
Number 2: Perceval le Gallois
~In this French film the story of Perceval is told. Perceval was one of the premiere knights at Arthur’s court. He went on many adventures as an exemplar knight, and this film tells several of this tales. I love that this is a French version (as I love the French language, and am fluent in it) and it is based largely on the Chretien de Troyes telling of Perceval’s story!
Number 1: Excalibur
~I cannot deny that this eighties film is the exemplar of all Arthurian films. It gets major points from me for Helen Mirren portraying Morgan Le Fay! The movie tells the entirety of the legends ending with Arthur’s death. I do not need to go on about why it is amazing, I will instead just suggest you watch this film!
Note on Order: I had a hard time choosing specific order for this list, and I think that several of these titles can change places depending on my mood. Yet I chose to do this list based on my ten favorites, and these definitely are my ten favorites no matter which order they are placed on a list!
Special Mention: Camelot (2011) the series on Starz gets a special mention as something that did not make the list (again like Merlin the mini-series it is not strictly a film). It was in the running for a place on the list, but a top 11 list just seems strange, so instead I decided on a special mention! The series is very enjoyable and had great acting, especially in depictions of the Arthurian women, but unfortunately it had but one short ten episode season.
~I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of my favorite Arthurian films. Let me know what Arthurian adaptations you love in the comments!