CAMELOT is, of course, the story of King Arthur (Richard Harris), his Queen,
Guenevere (Vanessa Redgrave), and Sir Lancelot (Franco Nero), the best and
brightest knight of Arthur's treasured Round Table. To Arthur's infinite
sorrow, his queen and love falls hard--irrevocably so--for his friend and
ally, and he is forced to choose between indulging the hatred that
overwhelms him as a man, and the nobility that accompanies his stature as a
king. Choosing the latter, Arthur must live with the whispers of 'poison in
the court' as the other knights bristle at Lancelot's stolen kisses with
Guenevere. All this while the king clings to his flame of hope, the idea of
establishing a civil court to establish law and order where once there was
violence and bloodshed. When Arthur's illegitimate son Mordred (David
Hemmings) devises a plan to get Arthur out of the castle and the knights
into Guenevere's room to trap the clandestine lovers, 'Jenny' and 'Lance'
are found out... even as they're pledging to part in order to honour their
love and loyalty to Arthur. The eventual demise of each of the three main
characters, which I'm emphatically *not* going to reveal but you might
suspect anyway if you know any Arthurian folklore, is heartrending and quite
'Tis a tale rich in ironies, this tale of Camelot, and in the end a story about two ideas--that of an ideal i.e. the peaceful lawful Camelot as envisioned by Arthur, and that of love. Neither are 'real' in the sense of being tangible, can't be seen or felt or heard, and yet both are worth fighting to the death for. They can bring a king to his knees, but they can also make heroes of men. It's a shame that the film doesn't do handle this too well; whenever it sets out to do so, it becomes a tad overdone. Take for example the quandary Arthur finds himself in--should he turn a blind eye to the adulterous pair's trysts? Arthur's dilemma is expressed by a soliloquy superbly delivered by Harris. It's a great piece of acting and a solid writing job--it's just not something that works on film, even in a musical (when one is more inclined to accepting an actor directly addressing or serenading the camera than with other film genres). The point is made *too* overtly, and the film and characters suffer as a result.
It probably isn't helped by the fact that the majority of the lush, beautiful shots in the film (see the 'Lusty Month Of May' number) are marred by some equally jarring shots that seem completely out of place, or just wrong. During the montage of shots to Nero's solo 'If Ever I Would Leave You', there is one sequence in which Guenevere enters Lancelot's room--it would make a perfectly lovely shot if done in an understated fashion, making the point that it is Guenevere who comes to Lancelot and not (always) the other way around. Unfortunately, in an attempt to create 'romance' (something that doesn't need overt manufacturing if the actors are capable of generating that atmosphere sans special effects), both actors are subjected to a wind machine, and end up looking like the melodramatic lover-idiots of a Mills & Boon dramatisation. Arthur's chat with young Tom as well is great in the conception, and suffers in the execution--something is lacking from that scene (I think the ability to underact by Gary Marsh as the boy), and it spoils what would otherwise be a great message and ending. (The too many 'Run, boy, run!'s also wears on the nerves after a while.) CAMELOT is caught uncomfortably between being a stage production and a film, and that shows in how it rigidly keeps to the 'Overture/Intermission/Entr'Acte/Ending Music' structure... while *annoucing* it with captions!
Whatever problems there might be with direction and execution, however, there can be no faulting of the score and songs written with the distinctive stamp of songwriting team Lerner and Loewe. Every song has its own charm, but I particularly enjoyed 'Camelot' (a sweet and fitting theme tune for the love between Arthur and Guenevere, and Arthur and his kingdom); 'Then You May Take Me To The Fair' (Guenevere's deviousness put to glorious song); and 'If Ever I Would Love You' (with smashing lyrics but spoilt somewhat by Nero). The actors, or at least the two leads Harris and Redgrave, do a creditable job by these songs... Harris in particular. He is consummately King Arthur, the vulnerable man and the noble king, and he brings the character off (dodgy blue eyeshadow or no!). The role of Guenevere is a tough one to make sympathetic, and even now I don't know whether I like her... but I do know that Redgrave did as good a job as can be expected with a woman who falls *instantly*( in love with her husband's best friend after trying her best to get him killed in (not one but three!) jousts. Neither Harris nor Redgrave are singers by profession, and it's rather a shame that Julie Andrews (who created the role of Guenevere on Broadway) didn't reprise her role for the film, but neither of them hinder the beauty of the Lerner/Loewe music. I'm afraid the same can't be said of Nero, whom I thought annoying as the puffed-up prat Lancelot. Watch and you'll notice that he emotes, in between a bad attempt at a French accent, by flaring his nostrils. Hardly attractive, especially in close-up!
CAMELOT is far from a perfect film or even a perfect musical. (That adjective can probably be applied only to the score, and that has nothing specifically to do with the film.) It would have been interesting to see it onstage, or to have the main Broadway cast reprise their roles in this version--yet the film *does* have its own quaint charm. The costumes are breathtaking, for certain, and Harris really works very very hard at trying to make the film one worth seeing. For his performance, despite the rest of the film and the uneven writing for his character, it almost *is* worth it. And I cannot deny that the ending still made me cry. So don't take it from me alone that CAMELOT isn't a great film--there *are* many things about it to like. But be warned that liking it, as I do, doesn't translate into loving it. 7.5/10
Adventure / Fantasy / Musical / Romance
Adventure / Fantasy / Musical / Romance
The story of the marriage of England's King Arthur to Guinevere is played out amid the pagentry of Camelot. The plot of illegitimate Modred to gain the throne and Guinevere's growing attachment to Sir Lancelot, whom she at first abhors, threaten to topple Arthur and destroy his "round table" of knights who would use their might for right.
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April 04, 2017 at 08:41 AM