Articles From the July 1995 Unification News


Film Review First Knight: Search for Spiritual Camelot

by Kathy Wining-NYC

There is something about the Arthurian legend which has always intrigued me. The idea of the righteous and victorious king who could do no wrong. Then one day, he finds his charming, chaste, and equally righteous queen-the lady Guinevere. Of course, there was the dashing and gallant-if not a bit arrogant-knight, Sir Lancelot. Growing up, I must have watched the movie, Camelot, at least a hundred times and read every book written about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I believe that many of us harbor a secret dream of the mythical Camelot deep within us. Maybe a part of us has been in search of a spiritual Camelot, if you will. However, it wasn't until I went to see First Knight that I understood this fascination with King Arthur and Camelot. While this particular version may not be the most elaborate, passionate, or exciting I found it to be profoundly enlightening. For that, it was well worth its price of admission.

What is right about First Knight? First, many film critics have criticized First Knight for the absence of traditional elements. These are: the sword excalibur, the magician/wise man Merlin, and the evil Mordred Morgana. Most films and books have relied on these mystical aspects of the legend to appeal to audiences. Though they may be fascinating, after seeing First Knight, I believe they distract us from the real appeal of the legend-what Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and Camelot represent on a principled level.

Second, traditional films have usually portrayed Guinevere as a minor character who is easily swayed by men; a woman without fortitude, guts, or commitment. First Knight has dared to paint her as a strong, vibrant woman of principles. She is a woman leads others righteously. A woman who thinks of others before herself. Yet, at the same time, she is thoroughly feminine. She is a woman who cares not that Arthur is a king. She looks beyond his title to look at the character and heart of the man. Julia Ormond made Lady Guinevere a viable woman for the 1990s.

But the real strength of First Knight is found in what it teaches us about Camelot. The problem with previous film versions, for me, has been the confusion I felt between Arthur and Lancelot. Arthur's righteousness appealed to me. However, Lancelot also appealed to me- his strength, his confidence, his charm. Yet, what was Lancelot really? He was the archangel. While Richard Gere may not have been the most appropriate casting decision for Lancelot, I must say that he presented Lancelot for what he was-an immoral, individualistic, arrogant man who ruined all that Camelot stood for.

First Knight has allowed us to realize that the real hero of the legend was not Lancelot, but King Arthur and his prospective queen. Sean Connery's portrayal was pure, strong, and righteous. Through this film, it became clear that what Arthur, Guinevere and Camelot really represented was our historic, spiritual search for the Garden of Eden, our search for real parents, and our vision of the world in which we wish to live. There is even a unique element in this film version with the two attempts by the evil knight Malagant to kidnap the future queen. Most reminiscent of the biblical Sarah and Egypt's pharaoh.

Though First Knight may be called a bit sterile by critics, I found the dialogue to be essential and straightforward. Connery makes it clear that the ideal world is composed of righteous, loving, moral individuals who find their freedom in serving each other and their strength in being humble before God. The stress on equality and universal brotherhood, while seemingly revolutionary for medieval times, nonetheless has been the object of many films and books. But what really made this film stand out was the point that Connery's character makes about individualism. On the one hand, Arthur shows his appreciation for Lancelot's bravery in saving the future queen. On the other hand, he chides Lancelot for his individualistic and privatistic attitude pointing out that his gifts mean nothing unless they are also offered for the greater good and out of a sense of deep and abiding love..

First Knight also points out the power of love-a power that can build and create, and a power that can destroy. Arthur is a strong leader with a clear vision for the future. He sees his impending marriage as a completion of his character-recognizing that as a couple, they will be able to lead Camelot into a better future for generations to come. In essence, the appeal of the Arthur legend is that it reminds us of our search for the ideal family.

More importantly, this film shows clearly how this vision was destroyed-that is the power the immoral love has to destroy. In this version, Guinevere somehow senses that she must be pure and loyal to her marriage. She realizes that she must be strong and deny her bodily desire for pleasure-listening only to her conscience. Lancelot, without a thought for the future or the consequences of his actions, relentlessly pursues her. While this film does not have the couple commit adultery, it does exemplify the truth behind Jesus' words that he who even lusts after a woman has committed sin. In essence, we see in this film that moral purity cannot be compromised.

After Arthur walks in on a long and passionate kiss between Guinevere and Lancelot, the destructiveness of this act becomes clear. Arthur admits that he cannot see the future as clearly as he once did. More seriously, the evil knight, Malagant-portrayed sinisterly by Ben Cross-now has the opportunity he needs to invade Camelot and with it, the dream of Arthur.

While this film will probably not win an academy award-except for a stunning musical score-I found the film to be most satisfying where it counts. It made me reflect on my own life and the tremendous time in which we live. Though Camelot may have been only a dream for many people throughout human history, we are re-building Camelot. We are picking up where Arthur and Guinevere left off. Through First Knight, I was reminded that if we listen to our conscience, develop a strong moral and righteous sense of right and wrong, live for the sake of others, and live beyond our prayer; Camelot can be ours. Not bad for $8!


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