I was around 9 years old when First Knight was released. Who can forget big names like Sean Connery, Julie Ormond and Richard Gere in the nineties? Ormond was a sweetheart of the time with Audrey Hepburn-esque qualities that even landed her the role of in the remake of Sabrina[i] the same year. Which incidentally also features a love triangle between her and two brothers, not unlike another previous role as Susannah Fincannon in the film, Legends of the Fall[ii]. We are accustomed to her role in complicated love story and never portrayed as a villain or ‘the bad guy’. So why do we come away from this film with relative ease about the situation?
Traditionally when we look at the old Arthurian stories regarding the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot, the outcome is [more or less] ‘as it should be’. There are no happy endings for anyone in ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’. Similarly in ‘Idylls of the King’[iii], Guinevere joins a convent and dies in the end. No one should [or can] ‘win’ in the end. Myths and legends tend to sway towards a more sobering morality, where bad things happen to… everyone. Created at a time when lessons had to be taught, passed on mouth-to-mouth, with no fairytale endings. These stories were not entertainment, as we know it, we listened and passed them on as cautionary tales before religious texts really took hold in society. Which is why they’re so easy to use under the assumption of a god.
Meanwhile, in real life one of the biggest news of the decade broke – The Charles & Diana scandal. In the, BBC Panorama Diana interview, she famously said “there were three people in our marriage”. Looking back now, I see how the two stories reflect each other, but the outcome was very different regarding public opinion and personal values. Princess Diana, ‘Queen of Hearts’ cemented herself in all of our hearts forever and it would take the country a decade to come around to Charles & Camilla.
The reaction to First Knight is rather different, but why? In ‘King Arthur’s Modern Return’[iv]the author discusses how modern American family values overshadow the infidelity in the film. It’s also interesting to note there was no extreme eroticism or explicit love scenes – the lovers weren’t overly sexualised, presumably to believe their love actually had substance. Even Arthur unknowingly validates their love when he declares to Lancelot, “you risked your life to save another – there is no greater love”. Movies, [unlike myths] are the epitome of entertainment, they do not stand for the same principles. Money plays a bigger part in our society. What sells is much more important, thus we give the people what they want.
The beauty about Hollywood is that we are often given what we want in a story regardless of historical accuracy. We all know we all prefer happy endings – Disney’s made a kingdom of happy endings. We want our protagonist; Lancelot to succeed, he has to win, he should win the girl, but only in the right way. And conveniently for us, the King dies in the end, but not before his blessing was given to the new couple, making it a seemingly happy ending for us all.
God Bless Hollywood Happy Endings.
“The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere”
by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874
Tennyson, A.  Idylls of the King
Mancoff, D. N.  King Arthur’s Modern Return, Jenkins, J.  The Aging of King Arthur: Arthur & America in First Knight
Thomas, M.  Le morte d’arthur First Knight  film. Directed by Jerry Zucker
Sabrina  film. Directed by Sydney Pollack
Legends of the Fall  film. Directed by Edward Zwick
BBC Panorama: Interview with Princess Diana  television programme, BBC, Martin Bashir, London, November 20
The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere  photograph. By Julia Margaret Cameron
[i] “An ugly duckling having undergone a remarkable change, still harbors feelings for her crush: a carefree playboy, but not before his business-focused brother has something to say about it.” IMDB
[ii] “A film starring Julia Ormond, Brad Pitt & Anthony Hopkins. ‘Epic tale of three brothers and their father living in the remote wilderness of 1900s USA and how their lives are affected by nature, history, war, and love.” IMDB
[iii] “ And likewise for the high rank she had borne, was chosen Abbess, there, an Abbess lived for three brief years, and there an Abbess past. To beyond these voices, there is peaces.”
[iv] “In her essay ‘The Aging of King Arthur: Arthur & America in First Knight’, Jenkins too, finds the contemporary American values: the immorality of the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere is minimised in favour of more wholesome family values, while Lancelot embodies the ‘dream of riches and success’.”