It’s pretty amazing that the King Arthur legends have been around for about fifteen centuries- entertaining global audiences for nine- and still hold up today. Storytellers have drawn out many narratives from Arthurian legends, using various character point of views and a variety of mediums.
Next year a new Arthurian film is set to release, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword directed by Guy Ritchie. Based on the trailer, it looks to be a fast-paced action flick about Arthur coming in possession of Excalibur whilst surrounded by a lot of slow-motion visual effects.
Now I can’t say if this one will go down in the history books, but judging by Ritchie’s previous films, it’ll likely be entertaining.
Upcoming films aside, here’s a list of Arthurian adaptions in relatively modern years that I think are the best:
This BBC show focused on Merlin and Arthur during their young adult years. The show begins with Merlin moving to Camalot to live with his uncle, the court physician, where he becomes Arthur’s servant. Arthur’s father Uther has outlawed magic and Merlin must hide his developing powers. The series is currently available on Netflix.
The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
This 1983 novel tells the legend from the point of view of the female characters, primarily Arthur’s half-sister Morgain. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list and won a Locus Award. In 2001 a mini-series premiered on TNT with record viewership.
Probably my first introduction to King Arthur and Merlin, this 1963 animated Disney classic the story of a young, orphaned Arthur, who falls into Merlin’s cottage and becomes his student. This little movie holds a special place in my heart and I can’t help but love all the musical numbers.
My brother and I loved this three-part mini-series as kids. The series stars Sam Neill as Merlin, Helena Bonham Carter, and Isabella Rossellini as well as Game of Throne‘s Lena Headey as Guinevere. This adaptation does not follow the traditional legends as closely, but it’s good in my opinion. A sequel mini-series came out in 2006 called Merlin’s Apprentice, though with much less success critically.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
This novel modernized Arthurian legends upon its publication in 1889 and has since inspired numerous film adaptations of its own, including A Kid in King Arthur’s Court and Black Knight. The story follows 19th century engineer Hank Morgan who, after being struck on the head, wakes up in the time of King Arthur and, with his modern knowledge, convinces the court that he is a magician.
The ultimate parody and cult favorite, this Arthurian farce depicts the King and his knights riding invisible horses with hoof sounds made by coconuts. Blood thirsty bunnies, severed limbs that are mere “flesh wounds”, and a famous historian make this funny adaptation deserve a place in any film collection.
In this board game, players take on the roles of the Knights of the Round Table to protect Camelot. Treachery, quests, and dragons make this game surprisingly fun. It won a number of awards when it was released in 2005.