Excalibur (film)

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German title Excalibur
Original title Excalibur
Country of production USA , UK
original language English
Publishing year 1981
length 135 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director John Boorman
script John Boorman,
Rospo Pallenberg
production John Boorman
music Trevor Jones
camera Alex Thomson
cut John Merritt

Excalibur (also: Excalibur - The Sword of the King ) is a fantasy film by British director John Boorman from 1981 . The film deals with the Arthur - Legend , based on the novel The Story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table of Thomas Malory from the 15th century . The film was one of the most successful fantasy films of the 1980s and can be cited as a stylistic model for many other well-known works such as the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia .


There has long been a war for supremacy in the country. Uther Pendragon , who is fighting with his army against the Duke of Cornwall , comes to the aid of the magician Merlin by handing him the magic sword Excalibur , “forged when the world was young, when birds, animals and plants were one with man ". Because of his legitimation as the owner of the mythical king's sword and the generous surrender of large stretches of land to his opponent, the duke promises him allegiance. Uther can be king, peace is made.

While celebrating this peace treaty at the Duke's castle, his attractive wife Igraine dances in front of the guests. Uther is seized with a violent desire for her, so that he immediately shows openly and furiously that he is willing to dispute his wife with the host. To steal the woman, he attacks the ducal castle shortly afterwards with his warriors and siege weapons. When Merlin appears in front of the castle in the war camp and Uther demands of him to give him access to the woman, Merlin, who is reluctant for a moment, has an instant vision. Therefore, he finds himself ready to do what Uther asks. Uther, however, has to swear to Merlin: "Whatever is born of your flesh lust shall be mine." After Uther swore this blind with greed and solemnly affirmed the vow in the name of Excalibur, Merlin sees to it that Uther his during Cornwall to a failure Left the castle, assumed the shape of the duke, rode across the lake ("the dragon's breath will carry you over") and entered the castle undetected. Igraine complies with her supposed husband's demand for sex; only her daughter Morgana sees through the magic and recognizes Uther. Meanwhile, the Duke falls from his horse in the opposing camp, falls into several set up lances and dies.

As a matter of fact, as foreseen by Merlin, a child emerges from this adjacent apartment. Nine months later, Merlin comes to the castle, which is now under Uther, and challenges the child. Torn between the mother's resistance and his oath, Uther hands the baby over to Merlin, but regrets it shortly afterwards. While he is riding after Merlin, who is carrying the child away, to take his son away from him, Uther is ambushed in the forest. Severely wounded, he flees after Merlin - only on foot. Pursued by the attackers, Uther calls for Merlin and asks that he be wrapped in a magical mist. When Uther instead sees the pursuers approaching and at the same time his life is dwindling, he gives his last will the words "Nobody should own the sword, nobody should carry Excalibur - except me!" And with the last of his strength thrusts the blade up to half its length into you Rock from which none of the pursuers can pull it out.

From now on: Whoever pulls the sword out of the stone should be king. Years later, a knight tournament is held again, the winner of which may dare to try. Uther's son Arthur was raised by a man like his own son; When Arthur is supposed to get his brother's sword, but cannot find it, he runs to Excalibur and pulls it out of the stone without any effort. The people are amazed. Arthur thrusts the sword back into the rock and pulls it out a second time. His foster father now confesses to him that Merlin brought him, not his son. Those present are divided over the question of whether Arthur is their king, and war breaks out between the parties. Arthur is now being instructed by Merlin: “If you are weak, the country will perish, if you are strong, the country will flourish and prosper.” The dragon “can be found everywhere and in everything”, from which Arthur concludes: “Excalibur - the sword is also a part of the dragon. ”So instructed, he overcomes his initial indecision and rides to the besieged castle of his followers. Because of his heroic efforts in relieving the castle, he quickly attracts the admiring glances of the beautiful Guinevere . Arthur is able to snatch the sword from Uriens, the leader of the attackers, and offers to submit to him, the true king. Uriens objects that Arthur is just a squire - Arthur hands him Excalibur and calls on his astonished opponent to knight him. Uriens complies and submits to Arthur.

Years later: Arthur, King of England, meets a knight in silver armor who does not want to release a bridge. Arthur challenges him to a duel to clear the bridge. The stranger who introduces himself as " Lancelot , a knight from across the sea" (i.e. from France), however, is superior to Arthur in battle. In order to win anyway, Arthur calls on his sword in view of the impending defeat: “Excalibur! Help me with your might! ”With the following blow of the sword, Lancelot loses consciousness, but Excalibur breaks on his armor. Arthur realizes that this is the punishment for selfishly trying to enforce victory over the noble and fair fighting Lancelot and is disappointed with his own actions (“It broke my pride”). Because of this repentance, the queen of the lake renews her sword. Lancelot, who has regained consciousness, joins Arthur, who makes him his first knight. When the country was later pacified, Merlin announced to the knights: “Be aware of this moment! … It's a happy day! Always keep it in your heart! Because at this hour you are all one! ”Arthur justifies the round table . But a little later the first moment of discord arises when Launcelot sees Guenevere and both fall in love at first sight. As planned, however, Arthur marries his bride. Meanwhile, Merlin Morgana confesses, “The days are numbered for people like us. ... It is a world in which there is no more room for us. ”- More and more often, Lancelot now stays away from the round table, but brings the young Parzival with him from one of his excursions to Arthur's Castle Camelot , where Merlin warns:“ The good and evil - there will never be one without the other. ”In fact, Gawain claims in the round table: Lancelot“ stays away from us because your wife desires him. ”Meanwhile, Lancelot fights in the forest against a knight who is himself and draws an injury on the left side of the body. To save the Queen's honor, he appears on Camelot and defeats Gawain in a duel, who exclaims: “The Queen is innocent!” Nevertheless, Lancelot and Guenevere meet and love each other soon after in the forest. When Arthur finds them sleeping together, he rams Excalibur into the ground between them. This means "the king without a sword". - In the meantime Arthur's half-sister Morgana succeeds in coaxing the spell out of Merlin. She captures Merlin in an ice crystal with his own saying. Then she enchants Arthur, who believes he is with Guenevere, and receives a son from him. As a result, Arthur becomes ill and the whole country is doing badly. Only the holy grail can help now. Arthur sends the Knights of the Round Table to find the Grail.

The knights look for many years. Parzival comes across a riding, mockingly laughing boy in golden armor, who can apparently bring him to the Grail. But the boy is Mordred , the son of Morgana and Arthur, who ultimately orders that Parzival be hanged from a tree on which numerous dead knights of the round table are already hanging. Near death, Parzival has a vision: he steps on a drawbridge and sees the Grail floating over a staircase. A voice asks, “What is the secret of the Grail? Whom does the Grail serve? ”Then the rope on which Parzival hangs breaks and he falls to the ground.

Years go by again, Mordred is now a young man, his mother puts on him a golden armor: "No spear, no dagger, ... no weapon forged by human hands will hurt you as long as you wear this armor." So equipped, goes Mordred goes to Camelot and explains to his father: “I have come to take what is mine.” However, Arthur replies: “I cannot give you the land, only my love.” His son then declares war on him. After a second death experience - during which he almost drowns in the river - Parzival looks at the Grail again, the voice asks: “What is the secret of the Grail? Whom does the Grail serve? "Parzival answers:" You, my King. "The voice asks:" Who am I? "Parzival answers:" You are my lord and king, you are King Arthur! ", To which the voice asks:" Did you find the secret that I lost? "Parzival replies:" Yes! You and the country, you are one! "Finally Parzival reaches Camelot and refreshes Arthur from the Grail:" Drink from the chalice and you will be reborn. "Arthur drinks and regains his strength:" I did not know how empty my soul was until this moment. ”He first seeks Guenevre in the monastery; she gives him Excalibur, which she has kept all these years. Then he goes into battle with a small band of those who have remained loyal to him against the troops of his son. Before the battle, Merlin appears to him, who only exists as a dream: "There are other worlds, I no longer belong in this world." Other knights of the Round Table also dream of Merlin that night. After announcing that he was "a dream for some, a nightmare for others", Merlin also appears in Morgana's dream and causes her to create a mist that deprives her of all her magic. Her own son now sees her as the old, shriveled, almost toothless woman that she actually is, knocks her down and strangles her. Arthur sees his chance in the fog and attacks. Lancelot also fights again for Arthur, putting down whatever opponents stand in his way; Arthur finally finds him hunched on the floor: "It's the old wound, my King, it hasn't healed." In the end, only Arthur, Parzival and Mordred are left, who says: "Come on, father, let's finally embrace." ! ”Pierced his father with the lance. Arthur penetrates his son's golden armor with Excalibur and kills him. The seriously injured Arthur gives Parzival the last assignment: “Take Excalibur! Throw this sword into deep water, into a deep lake! ”Parzival comes back again and shows his king that he couldn't, to which Arthur insists:“ Do what I ordered you! One day a king will come and the sword will rise again from the depths. ”When Parzival reluctantly throws the sword into the water in a second attempt, a hand emerges from the lake and takes Excalibur. Returning, Parzival only sees the king lying on a boat on the lake , three priestesses standing around him.


Camera and assembly

Distant shots are used quite often, such as the long shot. Close-ups are rare. Even with dialogues, settings like medium long and half close are more likely to occur. Following the novel, this emphasizes the epic character of the film.

The composition of Excalibur is reminiscent of Romantic painting. In addition to the size of the settings, this impression is also caused by the features (see below). In addition, all images are strictly oriented towards central perspective. A tilting of the camera, which often occurs in Boorman's other films, is not used. In the battle scenes, the action takes place on several levels (foreground, middle, background).

Larger movements are mostly represented by cuts. Boorman only uses drives and pans in very few scenes. Then the particular drama of the corresponding movement is emphasized. In these scenes, the camera follows the figure's movements, for example when Igraynes dance in Tintagil Castle. In another scene, Parzival is mocked by Mordred, he cannot find him. The disorientation of Parzival in the dense forest is demonstrated by multiple quick pans.

Most of the time the figures move within the pictorial space. Exceptions are rare. They emphasize the respective actions of the characters. For example, when Uther rides across the sea to Tintagil Castle, he first moves out of the picture and then back into another shot. This emphasizes the transformation brought about by Merlin's magic. It is reinforced by the stylistic device of fading when Uthers' helmet (long "snout") suddenly becomes the helmet of the Duke of Cornwall (short "snout").

In some scenes the movement of the figures is congruent with the viewer's line of sight: In Tintagil Castle, Uther, who has been transformed into a duke, walks straight towards the camera. This shows his determination to get to Igrayne at all costs. In a scene with the opposite effect, Merlin walks into the picture with young Arthur in his arms. It is thus withdrawn from the current perception of the audience. The prehistory ends with this scene.

Of the cut shapes used, parallel montages - actually chiasms - are particularly striking. In the prehistory it is shown how Uther and Igrayne have sexual intercourse and Uther finally climaxes and moans with pleasure. This scene is interrupted several times by a scene in which the dying Duke of Cornwall is shown in almost the same position as Uther. But he moans in pain and finally breathes out his life. This parallelization shows the connection between life and death.

In addition, Boorman uses numerous visual metaphors in this film, the meaning of which is obvious. A table in Camelot Castle, overabundantly set with food, stands for the abundance in the country in the happy times. In Lancelot's sword dream, he fights himself and hurts himself when his love for Guenevere and his loyalty to Arthur clash. The breaking of the round table is symbolized by the simultaneous parting of the knights.

Light and color design

The outdoor scenes during the day are well lit and should simulate real light. To achieve the rich green color of the forest, Boorman used partially green headlights. This gives the forest an “ethereal, magical quality”, as Steven D. Segal of Mediascreen writes.

Boorman uses a lot of smoke and fog in the night scenes. These scenes are generally lit much brighter than natural light would. This is partly explained by the plot by fire. For the interior scenes, it was important to simulate the lighting of rooms in which there was no electric light. This type of lighting corresponds most closely to the " low-key style " with deep shadows and irregularly lit areas. What is very noticeable in this film is the use of a base color, which dominates most of the scenes in a nude.

  1. History: red, fire and flames. The associations with this color are: struggle, anger, desire
  2. Ascent of Arthur: green, nature in spring. The associations are: peace, hope, prosperity of the country
  3. Arthur's fall and death: brown, nature in autumn. Associations: death, "infirmity", "pestilence".

However, this is only one predominant color. The use of one of these colors is not fully maintained if this is not possible, for example for dramaturgical reasons.

The colors represent both the state of the country and the well-being of the heroes Uther and Arthur. An example of this is the scene in which Arthur rides out with his entourage to battle Mordred: First they ride in an autumn landscape, then suddenly the first green buds appear, and finally they ride through a meadow with flowering fruit trees. What at first glance looks like a classic continuity error makes perfect sense in light of the color symbols shown above. Because the secret of the Grail is: “The king and the land are one.” Just as Arthur recovers from his infirmity after he has drunk from the Grail, so the barren land also becomes fertile and green again.


The landscape shots and especially the seemingly untouched forests are very elaborately designed. The lush green in these scenes was achieved by spotlights with green light (see above). This emphasizes the importance of nature for the film.

A lot of special effects are used in the battle scenes. For example, a knight's arm is shown chopped off and blood spurts out of the stump. In another scene, the Duke of Cornwall falls into a spear and dies. This shows the cruelty of the war of that time. This provides Excalibur unlike the Knights films from Hollywood of the 1950s, which were very "bloodless" and where battles had no further consequences for the hero. This counteracts an idealization of the Middle Ages.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Excalibur was considered to be one of the most brutal films of all, as blood was rarely shown in films at that time, even if this resulted in unrealistic combat in other films (for example, the knight is pierced by a lance, bleeds but not, just falls over etc.). Other very realistic elements in Excalibur are: While otherwise the "heroes" show no signs of fatigue even after much effort and fighting, here the knights tire in battle, they sway and struggle for air in their heavy armor. The sex scenes (especially that of Uther with Igraine, not quite so Lancelot with Guinevra) seemed rough and realistic to the viewer of the 1980s, but without being pornographic (you never see the step of the actors).

The costumes and especially the armor are very imaginative and not based on historical models. This also makes it clear that Excalibur is more of a fantasy than just a knight film. The armor may correspond to the ideas that were made in the Romantic era of an idealized Middle Ages. The rooms of the castles, here in particular the hall with the round table, are detailed and credible.

On the other hand, the quality of the architectural design of the building from the outside drops very sharply through the use of visual effects. Tintagel Castle can only be seen in its entirety once during the night and for a very short time. Camelot is shown only once very briefly and in full from a great distance. The portrayal of the architecture is much more impressive in the film The First Knight . The tournament area in front of the castle in Excalibur also looks very modest compared to the film The Knights of the Round Table from the 1950s. The reason for this was the relatively low budget of the film, which did not allow for complex matte paintings or mass scenes.


As Georg Seeßlen writes, the use of music in Excalibur can be characterized by “a lot of Wagner and a little Orff”. Two scenes illustrate this use of music particularly well: During the marriage of Arthus and Guenevere, Merlin and Morgana stand outside the church in which the Kyrie eleison (Have mercy) is sung. Both the text of this song and its almost hypnotic rhythm symbolize the replacement of the old natural religion by Christianity , which is gaining more and more followers. The powers of magic and mysticism , on the other hand, leave this world, which is also evident in the dialogue between Merlin and Morgana.

Arthur's ride with his knights to fight Mordred is accompanied by the music of Carmina Burana by Carl Orff .

From works by Richard Wagner , the following are mainly used: part of Siegfried's funeral march from Götterdämmerung as the main theme, introductory and closing music, the prelude to Tristan and Isolde as the love theme between Lancelot and Guinevere and the prelude to Parsifal as a theme to Perceval and the Grail .


The plot of the film Excalibur is not very closed. This practically covers a human life and ranges from prehistory and procreation through the ascent to Arthur's death. Accordingly, the film can be divided into three acts:

  1. Arthur's prehistory, conception and birth
  2. Arthur's ascent to the point of calamity: Merlin is locked in the crystal, Lancelot and Guenevere love each other, Arthur falls ill
  3. Fall and death of Arthur

The respective files are assigned corresponding dominant colors (red, green, brown). In particular, the first and second acts are held together by the figure of Merlin; he ensures continuity.

The constellation of characters changes several times in the course of the film: During the prehistory, Uther and Merlin are portrayed as heroes who are in a kind of teacher-student relationship. In the second act, Arthur and Merlin are initially the main characters, whose relationship is similar to that of Uther and Merlin. Later, a classic love triangle between Arthur, Lancelot and Guenevere is shown while Merlin takes a back seat. During the time of the search for the Grail at the beginning of the third act, Arthur resigns completely and Parzival is the only hero. At the end of the film, Arthur is the main character again.

The point-of-view of this film is that of the authorial narrator, whereby identifying proximity is established to certain people, to Uther, Artus, Lancelot and Parzival.

Although Merlin plays a crucial role in this film, no identifying proximity is established with him. His motivation for action is seldom explained, it appears surprisingly and then disappears again. This is particularly evident in comparison to the TV film Merlin (USA 1998), where an identificatory proximity to this figure is actually established. Therefore, the opinion often expressed in reviews that Merlin is the real main character of this film is wrong.

The change in the main characters and the point-of-view may have contributed to the fact that the film does not seem closed when first seen and looks more like a collection of episodes.

The plot is told in a strictly linear fashion, there are no anticipations or flashbacks. Since the film spans an entire generation, the narrated time has to be concentrated by means of omissions. The events not shown are explained by dialogues so that the viewer knows how much time has passed and what has happened. Examples of this are Arthur's childhood and youth, his struggle against his numerous enemies and the long peaceful years. In some cases, filmic metaphors are used to illustrate the omitted events. In one scene, armed knights cheer Arthur, where he explains that they have now defeated all their enemies. In another scene there is a richly set table for prosperity and peace in the country (see above).


The characters' actions can be explained in two ways, on a psychological and a mythological level.

Psychological interpretation

On the one hand, the characters are portrayed in the script in such a way that their actions are psychologically consistent. For example, Morgana's motive for creating strife is revenge. Because as a child she had to watch the death of her father, the Duke of Cornwall. Since she can no longer take revenge on Uther, she does this on Arthur, his son. So she divides Arthur and Lancelot and finally puts Arthur on the same spell that her mother was subject to when she received Uther. On this psychological level it is evident that Arthur is distressed because of Lancelot and Guenevere's "betrayal" of him. Accordingly, the search for the Grail would only be a blind actionism to cover up this grief. As Seeßlen thinks, it is actually pointless, since the mystery of the Grail only reveals a banality: "The king and the country are one"

Mythological interpretation

In addition, there is also a mythological level in this film that is not completely absorbed by the psychological one. For example, the experiences of Parzival in search of the Grail, Arthur's recovery and his fight against Mordred cannot be fully explained by psychology. For the explanation of this level, literary studies on the complex of the Arthussage can be used. As the English studies have shown, this consists of several layers. The oldest go back to Celtic myths that were later Christianized. There the Grail is a symbol of the fertility of the land itself, which was presented to the Holy King, who is also the highest priest and represents the fertility of the land. He is only installed in his office for a certain period of time and then has to give way to his successor if he can defeat him in battle. According to this interpretation, the partially Christianized King Arthur missed the time of the transfer of power. Because of this, he and the country are wasting away. He himself once said in the film: "I cannot live and I cannot die". Only when Parzival tells him the secret of the Grail "The king and the country are one", Arthur knows what he has to do: He has to face the fight with his potential successor and son Mordred. Now the country is blooming again. But since the time of the old natural religion is irrevocably over, both opponents die.

In numerous films, Boorman addresses man's loss of connection with nature, for example in Deliverance (USA 1971) and The Emerald Forest (USA 1985). It is therefore plausible to assume that Excalibur can also be interpreted in this regard.

This loss manifests itself in Excalibur in two ways:

  1. In the disappearance of magic from the world (Merlin, Morgana). Merlin's magic of the "dragon" is interpreted as a kind of pantheistic religion or conception of nature.
  2. In the rise of Christianity

However, in Excalibur there is no idealization of nature or the "old days" of magic, which represent a life in touch with nature.

In particular, the cruelty of the people, which is exemplarily shown through the use of special effects in the battle scenes, makes it clear that this time was by no means idyllic. This corresponds to the film Deliverance , where on the one hand the loss of the connection between humans and nature was deplored, but on the other hand the more nature-loving "hillbilly" are not portrayed positively.


The British director John Boorman then selected largely unknown actors who are now internationally known, including Liam Neeson , Helen Mirren , Patrick Stewart and Gabriel Byrne .

The film is also considered a family project, as Boorman was able to win three of his four children - Charley Boorman , Katrine Boorman and Telsche Boorman - as actors.

Originally Boorman wanted to film The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien , but due to the technical and financial requirements as well as problems with the rights holders, he was unable to realize this project.

Excalibur premiered on April 10, 1981. The West German premiere learned the film on October 29, 1981. In the cinemas of the GDR he ran on May 16, 1986, entitled Excalibor - The sword of the king of.


Excalibur was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1981 as “Best Film”, won by Andrzej Wajda's Man of Iron . Director John Boorman was awarded for the best artistic contribution.

A year later, Excalibur received an Oscar nomination for "Best Cinematography".

Voice actor

The voice actors for the German version:


“'Excalibur' was shot in the harsh, gloomy landscapes of Ireland, which contribute to the mystical aura of the material. Director John Boorman ('The Tailor of Panama') perfected his passion for operatic productions in light-forceful miracle and horror images. Conclusion: Powerful knight saga in gloomy luminosity. "

“Exciting, brilliantly photographed adventure film about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The pictorial effects are more important to the director than a deepening of the intellectual background and the symbolic content. The moderate self-irony of the dialogue prevents slipping into kitsch pathos. "

See also

Individual evidence

  1. See Silbermann / Schaaf / Adam: Filmanalyse, Munich 1980, p. 54
  2. Cf. Steven D. Segal: Excalibur , in Mediascreen ( Memento of the original from June 14, 2002 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.mediascreen.com
  3. Cf. Georg Seeßlen: The Filmmaker as Magician: John Boorman, in: EPD-Film 7/95, p. 24.
  4. Cf. Georg Seeßlen: The Filmmaker as Magician: John Boorman, in: EPD-Film 7/95, p. 25.
  5. See Heide Göttner-Abendroth : Die Göttin und ihr Heros, Munich 1984, p. 197.
  6. Excalibur in the Internet Movie Database (English)
  7. a b Excalibur at zweiausendeins.de. Retrieved June 26, 2014.
  8. synchronkartei.de: Excalibur. Retrieved August 12, 2015 .
  9. Excalibur ( Memento of the original from June 15, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. at fantasy films. Retrieved June 26, 2014.  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.fantasy-filme-filmtipp.com
  10. Excalibur  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. at tvspielfilm.de. Retrieved June 26, 2014.@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.tvspielfilm.de  


  • Thomas Malory: The story of King Arthur and the knights of his round table (OT: Le Morte d'Arthur ). 3 volumes, 9th edition, Insel Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1998, ISBN 3458319395 .
  • Georg Seeßlen: The filmmaker as a magician: John Boorman, in: EPD-Film 7/95

Web links