First Knight

on July 07, 1995 by Christine James
They say things come in threes--or is that celebrity deaths? At any rate, the three films set centuries ago in what is now the United Kingdom about fights for freedom and honor led by one incredibly noble man catalyzed by the love of a good woman have all been well-done works of cinematic art. "Rob Roy," "Braveheart" and "First Knight" were all released within weeks of each other; though all are thoroughly enjoyable and impressively depicted, by now the battle scenes, the rally for emancipation, the supremely dastardly pillaging villain and the lush, sweeping cinematog- raphy of medieval countrysides all seem repetitious. But looked at on its own, "First Knight" is a stirring, passionate rendering of the tale of King Arthur, Lady Guinevere, Sir Lancelot, the Knights of the Round Table and the one brief shining moment of the legendary city called Camelot.
   Sean Connery is excellent as Arthur, commanding, wise and benevolent, a leader to the end, with a sense of humor to boot. Julia Ormond ("Nostradamus" and "Legends of the Fall"), always regal of carriage, is exquisite as the intelligent and virtuous Guinevere, torn between the love of two incredible men. Richard Gere is the only casting misstep; his lackluster, tabula rasa performance as the dashing, heroic swordsman Lancelot doesn't bring any additional charisma or passion to the role. But fortunately the character is rich enough in itself that we are nevertheless caught up in his exciting persona. He is given additional depth with a tragic backstory. Ben Cross, while convincingly chilling as the evil, greedy Malagant suffers the most from comparison to his "Rob Roy" and "Braveheart" counterparts, Tim Roth and Patrick McGoohan, as he's not given much more to do than be consummately immoral.
   As good as most of the performances are, as adrenelaine-pumping the battles, as gorgeous the cinematography, sets and costuming, "Braveheart" and "Rob Roy" told the story better, with even more rousing characters. This film, though fine, cannot help but be overshadowed by its recent predecessors. Starring Richard Gere, Sean Connery, Julia Ormond and Ben Cross. Directed by Jerry Zucker. Written by William Nicholson. Produced by Jerry Zucker and Hunt Lowry. A Columbia release. Romance/adventure. Rated PG-13 for some brutal medieval battles. Running time: 132 min.
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