First Knight (1995)
First Knight (1995)

Genre: Adventure and Romantic Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min.

Release Date: July 7th, 1995 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Jerry Zucker Actors: Sean Connery, Richard Gere, Julia Ormond, Ben Cross, Liam Cunningham, Christopher Villiers, Jean Marie Coffey

 


 

“F

irst Knight” is in the same vein as Kevin Costner’s take on Robin Hood (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” [1991]) – both are attempts to depict medieval adventures with too much romance and not enough swashbuckling. The characters are overdramatic and the plot weaves around sentimental relationships instead of action. And even when excitement does crop up, the editing allows the picture to pause to congratulate itself, as if some monumental example of cinematic awe has been achieved, negating any moment that could have been effective. Also unfortunate for “First Knight” is its release date just after the extreme superiority of “Braveheart.”

King Arthur of Camelot (Sean Connery) returns home to enjoy some peace brought about by the conclusion of warring. But just as the former chaos appears to have finally settled down, Prince Malagant (Ben Cross) breaks away from the Knights of the Round Table to begin his own conquest of the outlying towns neighboring the powerful city of Camelot. During his campaign, his army also attacks Lady Guinevere (Julia Ormond) of Lyonesse as she journeys to marry Arthur.

After a daring rescue by the gallant Lancelot (Richard Gere), a soldier who instantly falls in love with her, Guinevere must weigh her growing feelings for her savior against the safety a union with Arthur could provide for her people. To complicate matters further, Guinevere reflects on fond memories of Arthur from her childhood, while Lancelot decides to join the Knights of the Round Table to be closer to his newfound love. And as the cunning Malagant continues to destroy nearby villages, recapture Guinevere, and wage war against the castle stronghold itself, the love triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot begins to pose serious problems for the entire kingdom.

The devil-may-care Lancelot isn’t fully realized by Gere, who appears too much of a lover and not enough of a fighter. This is partially a blunder by the script, but mainly the fault of Gere, who doesn’t have an ounce of genuine bravado or courage in his performance, despite the addition of long, wild hair and an unusually bulky sword. His cheekiness and playful flirting paints quite the timorous, insincere warrior. Guinevere’s character similarly suffers from the writing, which, within the first few scenes, designates her as an impossibly kind leader and a generic storybook heroine. And antagonist Malagant is over-the-top and commonplace, wielding constant grimaces and sneers at every turn – as if viewers might accidentally mistake him for the hero. The inimitable Sean Connery is always a fine actor, but here his role is unable to impart anything but predictability.

In the end, a few large-scale battles and lengthy action sequences can’t save “First Knight” from its exhausting stereotypes and sappy storyline. Bogged down by the melodrama of the love triangle, which takes away any focus on historical accuracy or believable characters, the film can’t distinguish itself from substandard made-for-TV fare. Medieval times were also never as lively, clean, and bright as director Jerry Zucker makes them out to be – and never has entertainment value so clearly avoided a big-budget period piece like this.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10