Guy Ritchie wants to make the definitive King Arthur movie. It’s weird to think that there isn’t one already, considering Arthurian legend is one of the most formative and best-known tales in Western literature, but perhaps that’s due in part to the amorphous nature of the myth; ever changing in the hands of new poets, authors, and scholars over the centuries.
With King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, the historical and literary legend is getting the Guy Ritchie makeover treatment. Like Sherlock Holmes and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. before it, King Arthur is getting a kinetic, poppy, machismo revamp at the hands of the helmer and his creative partner, co-writer/producer Lionel Wigram.
Back in the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to visit the set of King Arthur at Leavesden Studios outside London, England where I spoke with the stars and filmmakers and toured the immersive, city-scale sets. Sets that both facilitate the scale of Ritchie’s action set-pieces and the scale of the larger world he’s building. From the winding streets of the ancient town Londinium to a full-scale (if short) drawbridge to a drained rock quarry littered with the decrepit remains of ships, molded over blue at the edges.
It’s a world that will be familiar to fans of Arthurian tradition — Excalibur, the sword in the stone, the commoner turned king, the knights, the round table — but it reenvisioned with a macho, modernist bent; all rock n’ roll and magic and everyman bruisers embroiled in enchanted destiny. In Ritchie’s hands, Arthur is a street kid, raised by three prostitutes who took in the nameless baby after the murder of his father, the king Uther Pendragon. Nor is he the noble consummate good guy of tradition, instead a scrappy, coarse man’s man, reluctant to accept the burden of his true identity.
During the day I spent on set, a major action sequence was underway, set in a courtyard where Hunnam and his loyal knights were locked in combat against a legion of men. Between takes, Hunnam pumped himself up with a series of jumping jacks and push-ups; something to keep the blood-flowing during the action. Watching a fight sequence is always a sort of mind-blowing experience — every step, every single beat, takes such attention to detail and the collaboration of so many artisans, it’s a wonder they ever get in the can. Which is why this particular action sequence was set to film over the course of an entire week. We watched them film for hours — no doubt everything we saw will end up as only moments in the final film.
While on set, I had the pleasure of speaking with Hunnam; Wigram; Djimon Hounsou, who plays Arthur’s most loyal knight Sir Bedivere; Aidan Gillen, who plays a slippery freedom fighter by the name of Goosefat Bill; production designer Gemma Jackson; costume designer Annie Symons; weapons master Tim Wildgoose; and producer Steve Clark-Hall. We caught up with them in the final days of production at Leavesden, before they picked up and moved to take advantage of Scotland’s gorgeous scenery for the final weeks of shooting. Here’s what we learned.