King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a Guy Ritchie-directed take on the classic Medieval legend, starring Charlie Hunnam as the title character, Jude Law as the villainous Vortigern, Djimon Hounsou as Sir Bedivere, and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as the Mage who works for the legendary wizard Merlin. It was released in 2017 by Warner Bros., earning negative reviews and landing with a thud at the box office, effectively halting any future installments in the rebooted Arthurian legend. That’s the whole story, right?
Not even close. In an exclusive interview with our own Steve Weintraub for his upcoming Netflix movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, filmmaker David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) revealed what happened with his planned King Arthur trilogy with an entirely different cast, which was being developed before Ritchie took over.
As we reported by in 2011, Dobkin had already cast Joel Kinnaman (Suicide Squad) as Sir Lancelot and Kit Harington as King Arthur, earning a greenlight from Warner Bros. This was after the first season of Game of Thrones and well before the series gained worldwide attention.
Harington was exactly what Dobkin was looking for: “When he read for King Arthur, the way he does it by the time you understand who he is in that he’s honorable, his character works against him sometimes ’cause he’s so pure of heart. He carries you through Game of Thrones in such an amazing way to the end, and that is exactly what we needed for that character for the way that I wrote the script. He was supposed to be an everyman King Arthur, not someone who pulls it and goes, ‘I won the lottery,’ but someone who pulls it and goes, ‘I’m not even equipped to do this.’ The minute he pulls the sword, the entire kingdom is trying to kill him. To me, that was what was cool.”
Dobkin had even begun courting other incredible actors, using Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale‘s Batman Begins as his North Star. Until the international department at WB balked.
“We had Gary Oldman for Merlin. We were trying to talk Marion Cotillard into playing Morgana. We were going out to Liam Neeson for Galahad. The whole idea was the Batman formula. Christian in the beginning of Batman playing Batman with all these big actors around him, and you let the storytelling kind of carry the movie. He was him, but he was American Psycho him, he was not Christian Bale as he know him today. So that was the design, and when I sold the film to Warner Brothers, there was no cast contingency. After I showed the screen tests of Joel and Kit together, we got greenlit, and a day later, the international department who saw the screen test kind of came in and were like, ‘We don’t think we can sell the movie with these two guys.’ And the pressure got harder and harder, we had already scouted Hungary. We were greenlit and on our way to making the movie. I had a DP, Philippe Rousselot was shooting the movie. There was a production designer. Everything was up and running, and then international Warner Brothers put the brakes on the movie, and they told me we had to recast.”
Before Dobkin could focus on recasting leads, he got the script for The Judge, and a very excited Robert Downey Jr. eager to make that film. So, he went off and made that character-driven legal drama for a change of pace. When he came back to dive back into his rich blockbuster epic, “Joby Harold had written a new version of the movie very different from my script, completely different, but with a lot of the same premise. The world that was occupied by these forces of evil that when he grows up inside of this world that’s kind of been oppressed, and he learns to be an everyman, and when he first gets the sword he doesn’t believe it’s him — All those kinds of new ideas that I had put in there were in the movie, but it was a very different movie. And I didn’t really connect with the material and Guy [Ritchie] did. Which was very ironic because we had just been through this whole do-si-do on Man from U.N.C.L.E. as well. So, yeah, two movies in a row that I was directing that ended up being redeveloped by Guy and then he directed.”
The rest, as they say, is history. But Dobkin still asserts that a trilogy was the best way to tell his story:
“You can’t tell that story in one movie. You just can’t. There’s no way to believe that Arthur and Lancelot have had a friendship enough to believe that there would be pressure once Guinevere enters the picture. You have to believe that Arthur has had a real love story with her if you’re gonna be confused and conflicted when Lancelot falls in love with her. And then once he falls in love with her, once Lancelot and Guinevere actually come together and fall in love, if they sleep together, you immediately don’t like all three characters. So I had to fix all that stuff, and I did.”
Dobkin called the entire experience “a heartbreaker, because I really loved that script.” Could we ever see a version of what he planned on doing? Perhaps. He’s been offered a graphic novel version, among other revisitations. But ultimately, Dobkin concedes audience appetite for a new King Arthur story just might not be there: “One day maybe it’ll come back around, you know. It’s hard because King Arthur has not worked at the box office since [1981’s] Excalibur. And it’s a mystery to me. It’s a real mystery. It’s one of the great iconic characters, ever.”
Check out Dobkin’s full story on his scrapped King Arthur movies below. For more on all things Arthur, here’s a look at the upcoming Netflix take on the material, Cursed.