What is the most historically accurate King Arthur movie?

Aug 2018
274
America
Arthur is a semi-historical king, but the narrative about a local Briton king defeating an Angle or Saxon army in battle and stopping their advance into Wales is hardly implausible. Of course, the later King Arthur traditions of the Holy Grail and errant knights straight up turned this king into a mythological figure with virtually nothing to do with his historical counterpart, with only the conflict with Mordred having possibly a kernel of truth.

In any case, what's the most historically accurate King Arthur film? There are a lot of King Arthur movies, but I'm only going to concentrate on four that I've seen and which also seem representative: Knights of the Round Table from 1953, King Arthur from 2004, The Last Legion from 2007 and King Arthur from 2017.

Knights of the Round Table: This one deals exclusively with the Arthur of mythology. Everything around it comes from the Arthurian Holy Grail traditions rather than the Celtic king who defended his homeland from an Anglo-Saxon invasion. Not only that, but it turns Arthur into a straight up Englishman with nothing Celtic about him except his name (which at this point most people probably don't know is of Celtic origin), and it mentions him as a king of "England" when England didn't even exist at the time of the historical Arthur in the 5th century CE.

King Arthur: Clive Owen's Arthur is actually half-Celtic, half-Roman in this one, which might very well be a possibility especially if Arthur is related to Ambrosius Aurelianus, a Romanised general who is also said to have defeated a great Anglo-Saxon army. The movie's plot is also about stopping a Saxon invasion. However, the movie goes off the rails by its absurdly idiosyncratic portrayal of Celts as Native American noble savage stereotypes called "Woads", and its insistence of having Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, portrayed here following the equally stupid and ludicrous Sarmatian hypothesis that exists to deny that Arthur was anything other than a Celt and which postulates that Arthurian legends about errant knights have their origins in a Sarmatian contingent stationed there by the Romans that spread their nomadic culture into Britain. It also insists in making Arthur a much larger than life figure, getting him involved in the theological disputes of the Roman Empire going at the time and having him fighting in continental Europe, which the real Arthur wouldn't have done due to being in the periphery.

The Last Legion: This one goes with the hypothesis that Arthur is in reality Ambrosius Aurelianus (because, you see, for Hollywood Arthur cannot be a Celt, and even when he is a Celt, he has to be only partially), but it goes further by making Aurelianus a close acquaintance with Romulus Augustus and Odoacer and calling him "Ambrosinus". The plot about Julius Caesar's sword being Excalibur is dumb and ridiculous, and the plot gets even dumber when it includes an Indian female warrior and Ben Kingsley as Merlin. Moreover, after getting rid of Arthur's Celtic name and even identity, it can't even get the enemies he fought correctly since here they're Goths instead of Anglo-Saxons. The Goths didn't even attempt to invade England.

King Arthur: The 2017 adaptation goes back to 1953 by making Arthur an Anglo-Saxon again. This one doesn't even pretend to be historically accurate, including Vikings who wouldn't start raiding until three centuries after Arthur, and elephants. The opponent of Arthur isn't Anglo-Saxons again, but the Celtic king Vortigern as if to say that Celts are bad guys who need to be killed by the pretty blond Anglo-Saxon. Vortigern does appear in some Arthurian stories, but he is otherwise a very minor character largely unrelated to Arthur.

From these films, it would seem the most accurate is 2004's King Arthur with Clive Owen. Arthur is actually a (half-)Celt here and he fights off a Saxon invasion, even if the ridiculousness of Sarmatian knights fighting with him cannot be taken seriously. Next to this would be The Last Legion, which identifies Arthur with Ambrosius Aurelianus (though mangling this name) and has him fight an invasion of Goths, even though Goths are different from Saxons and there's no recorded Gothic invasion of Britain. Ironically, despite all the anachronisms, 2017's King Arthur is next if only by virtue of including the historical figure of Vortigern (though admittedly, all figures of early medieval Britain are of doubtful historicity and may well not have existed). Finally, Knights of the Round Table eschews all history and goes straight into the stories of the mythological Arthur that have virtually nothing to do with the semi-historical figure that won the Battle of Badon against invading Saxons.

There are more King Arthur movies, but I would be surprised if they are more accurate than the 2004 version. The fact that this one is the most "accurate" - using the term loosely -, however, shows just how much Hollywood mangles Arthurian history and seems incapable of portraying a simple story of a native Celtic king resisting foreign invaders that were the ancestors of today's English.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,950
Sydney
None that I can think off , all are fantasies

most are concerned with the medieval legends which was publicized by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 11th century
it became part of the "Breton" circle of stories connected with him , the most notable being the quest for the Graal
though I much prefer the Lancelot Guinevere love affair
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,877
Portugal
I saw it some years ago and I was quite fond of it, and find it quite in the spirit of Malory’s book, so in that way faithful to a historical work: Excalibur (1981); but I noticed that was not your idea.

The Last Legion: This one goes with the hypothesis that Arthur is in reality Ambrosius Aurelianus (because, you see, for Hollywood Arthur cannot be a Celt, and even when he is a Celt, he has to be only partially), but it goes further by making Aurelianus a close acquaintance with Romulus Augustus and Odoacer and calling him "Ambrosinus". The plot about Julius Caesar's sword being Excalibur is dumb and ridiculous, and the plot gets even dumber when it includes an Indian female warrior and Ben Kingsley as Merlin. Moreover, after getting rid of Arthur's Celtic name and even identity, it can't even get the enemies he fought correctly since here they're Goths instead of Anglo-Saxons. The Goths didn't even attempt to invade England.
The Last Legion is based on a book by the Italian writer Valerio Massimo Manfredi, a goof writer (I am quite fond of his Alexander trilogy), and it is a fictional piece, so we can’t blame Hollywood for the idea of Arthur not being a Celt in this one.

Maybe if someday appears a movie/series based on Bernard Cornwell’s work, something more appealing to your idea comes up.
 

Theodoric

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,923
Yötebory Sveriya
There is no historical information for Arthur, so we can’t really gauge what would be accurate.

The Arthur we have come to know today is a character who went through MANY revisions between the Welsh legends and the King of Britain that we know today. Honestly, I am not overly familiar with the Welsh legends but I did read some of them before in a compilation of mythical figures of Northern Europe - such as one tale where he tricked a giant into allowing him to slit its throat after selling his services as a barber. From memory, I am not sure the Arthur of the Norman/Breton legends shares much resemblance to the original source material. Given how mad the Welsh stories I recall are, he may have been a completely fictional character.

I’ve made up many myself among friends. In University we would often walk past this thick woodland and it had a weird driving path leading onto private property with only a sign that said “Magnus” to designate the property. We created a character who was insane, practiced paganism, and to pass the time on walks we made up more and more stories about “Old Man Magnus” which I won’t repeat here (because they are terribly inappropriate) until we had a crazy legend about some guy we never saw or heard anything about before. I think people in olden days had even more spare time and boredom to create such legends. So, for all we know, Arthur was just some name on a sign outside a large woods that some creative writers made legends about on their way to getting mead or beer.

While it is attractive to consider the Arthurian Legends historical, I don’t think that has any baring on their accuracy.

Even figures like Rollo and Ragnar are probably manufactured, and they have historical backing of events of their so-called descendants. Arthur has no such thing.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,454
Dispargum
The only historically accurate things one can put into a King Arthur movie are the props, costumes, and set decorations. As far as characters and plot go, I doubt one can go beyond a belief that the Britons were at war with the Saxons, and I'm of the opinion that some story elements about Arthur were imported from stories that had nothing to do with Saxons.
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,616
Westmorland
None of them are historically accurate in terms of events and people, although as Chlodio says, they might be in terms of their depiction of material culture and customs.

To understand why none of them are historically accurate, check out Alpinluke's thread King Arthur: A Lombard King! which you will find in the Speculative History sub-forum. This the current Arthur thread although we have had plenty of others in the past.

Incidntally, the OP seems to think that Hollywood has an issue with Celts. I thought that Celts made Hollywood wet its pants with excitement?
 
Last edited:
Oct 2016
139
Ashland
I'm reading Bede Ecclesiastical History of the British People. He mentions a victory at 'Mount Badon' by one Ambrosius.
As far as history proper goes, that's bout it , as far as I know. The monkish author goes on with some interesting detail regarding the end of Romanized Britain. He is fairly well-informed about Roman and Byzantine History and strikingly ignorant of geography.
We like King Arthur with Clive Owen, Ray Stephenson, et al very much. I re-read Malory last year: so many swords, so many eldritch ladies!
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,743
Australia
None are even remotely close to the time period they were supposed to be depicting. I think Exacalibur is the best screen adaption of Mallory's plot.
 

M9Powell

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
4,448
appalacian Mtns
I agree with all of the above that none are accurate. My favorite though is Excalibur. Uthar raping Egraine while wearing full plate armor in the 5th century.
 
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Feb 2017
242
Devon, UK
None of them are. But if you want a TV series about a 5th/6th century chieftan/king/warlord or whatever try this gem from my childhood