By Nell Minow,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Entertaining but violent spin on classic story.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
One of the major themes is the idea of embracing love, spirituality, and faith.
Positive Role Models
Arthur doesn't blindly follow the dictates of Roman Catholic leaders who validate torture and enslavement and trusts his own understanding of his faith as well as his own moral compass. Lead female character displays as much valor and bravery as any of the men.
Violence & Scariness
Frequent bloody battle scenes; allusions to rape and torture; lead characters die. Battles with swords, arrows, flaming arrows, catapults. Constant medieval violence. In a flashback scene, a boy watches in horror as his mother is attacked and killed by warriors before his home is burned to the ground. A woman is shown on the verge of being raped by a Saxon; it's stopped by their leader, who then has her killed.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Allusions to sexual prowess from one of the knights. Implied sex in one scene, no nudity.
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Occasional mild profanity: "piss," "bastards," "ass," "arse." Joke made about the size of a man's penis. During a feast scene in which the knights are drunk, one of the knights is overheard saying, "She gave me fleas," to which another knight says, "Be glad that's all she gave you." A female soldier tells one of the knights, just before a battle with the Saxons, "Don't worry. I won't let them rape you." Mockery of prayer and of Christianity by nonbelievers in some scenes that could be offensive to religious viewers.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some of the knights are shown drunk at a feast, shouting and behaving boisterously.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that King Arthur has many bloody battle scenes and deaths, with lots of swords flashing and arrows flying. Young Arthur sees his town burnt and knows that his parents have been killed, which will disturb some kids. Several victims of torture are shown in weakened states and refer to machines of torture. Two characters have a sensual scene with nonexplicit sex. Characters talk about women, sex, and their physical attributes. Arthur's men drink to celebrate and to mourn loss. A peasant woman is shown on the verge of being raped by a Saxon. Iffy joke made by female lead referencing rape. Occasional mild profanity: "piss," "bastards," "ass," "arse."
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What's the Story?
KING ARTHUR (Clive Owen) and his six knights have completed the 15-year tour of duty guarding Hadrian's Wall required of them by Rome. Arthur's knights are conscripts from Samaria, young, pagan horsemen from the Steppes of present-day Georgia/Russia, who cannot return home without safe passage papers from Rome. Meanwhile, half-Roman/half-Celtic Arthur hopes to be reunited with his friend, the moral reformer, Christian, and free-will proponent Pelagius, to partake of the democracy and equality that Arthur believes now rule Rome. However, the bishop who carries their release papers also brings the news that Arthur and his men have one final mission to complete: they must cross Hadrian's Wall to face the blue-painted tribes to the north led by the sorcerer-warrior, Merlin (Stephen Dillane), in order to retrieve a noble Roman family.
Is It Any Good?
Saying that this retelling of the King Arthur story is "The Truth Behind the Legend" is an overstatement of epic proportions, making the movie's tagline the only thing epic about it. The battle scenes, dialogue, and attractive actors all place King Arthur squarely in the realm of summer popcorn flicks: entertaining and briefly uplifting, but not destined to linger in memory, much less in history. The story sounds complicated, especially considering that it jettisons just about everything you expect in a story about King Arthur but the Round Table. It piles on the history, but there is just enough plot to fill the scenes between battles.
Those looking for the familiar terrain of King Arthur's legend -- the silvery arm holding Excalibur aloft, the search for the Grail, and the illicit love between Lancelot and Guinnevere -- should head to the library. Those in search of the true stories behind King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table can look to Celtic, Scottish, Welsh, Roman, and Assyrian legends. But those looking for some memorable battle scenes and some attractive actors without too much plot to slow things down can fill up the popcorn bucket and sit back for some mindless entertainment.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about leadership and the characteristics that inspire loyalty in King Arthur, as displayed by Arthur, Merlin, and the Saxons.
How does the movie remain true to the well-known stories of the Arthurian legend, and where does it put its own spin on the tale?
Was all the violence necessary in order to convey a sense of what medieval battle was like, or did it seem like it was forced in to make the movie exciting?
- In theaters: July 7, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: December 21, 2004
- Cast: Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd, Keira Knightley
- Director: Antoine Fuqua
- Inclusion Information: Black directors
- Studio: Touchstone Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, History
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense battle sequences, a scene of sensuality and some language
- Last updated: April 27, 2023
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