Hearing about the recent 25th anniversary of the release of The Princess Bride made me think of that most cherished of film sub-genres: the 1980s fantasy flick. Defined by films such as the aforementioned Bride, as well as Willow, Krull, The Neverending Story, Excalibur and Ladyhawke, all of these motion pictures were marked by an anarchic sense of humour, picaresque adventure and often, unfortunately, some truly terrible scripts, acting and dialogue. Quite what prompted this mini-boom in over the top fantasy movies is something of a mystery. Maybe it was a reaction against the in-yer-face realism of 1970s cinema that saw Hollywood fall so insatiably in love with fantasy films in the ’80s. Or maybe it was the optical effects triumphs of the late ’70s sci-fi films that convinced film-makers that they could finally mount stories of this kind convincingly. Whatever the reason, the ’80s was a decade of mythical adventures in thrilling, faraway lands, ruled over by wicked, dark forces. It was a time of callow, would-be warriors setting off on life-changing quests against dastardly enemies and finding love – or at least lust – on the way. Let’s take a magical mystery tour through the era of excess in fantasy films.
Everyone has heard of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table but, whilst there may well once have been a famous ruler named Arthur, no one can prove that he or his court ever really existed. Although the time in which King Arthur is supposed to have lived – in the fifth and sixth centuries – was a dark age in Britain, the story of his deeds and the valour of his knights blazed right through Europe. Various parts of Britain, from Scotland to Wales and Cornwall, claimed him as their own, while the French insisted that he was from their own Celtic hinterland of Brittany. Sicily is one of scores of places in which Arthur’s tomb is said to lie. Despite this international element one thing that appears certain is that Arthur was a Briton. While other countries may have the odd Arthurian battlefield, grave or castle, in western Britain there is hardly a range of rugged hills or stretch of rock-strewn moorland that does not claim some association with King Arthur.