Of all the films and television programs produced by airborne members of the Flying Circus, I consider this to be their greatest achievement. Co-authored and then co-directed Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones (two rather silly people indeed), this film makes at least some effort to recreate a distant period in history and from a somewhat 20th century perspective. Apparently available funds were limited because Gilliam and Junes could not afford to rent horses and thus were forced to simulate them with body language and coconut half shells. Also, various members of the Ye Olde Merrie Companie were required to play several different roles…on occasion at the same time. For example, Graham Chapman as King Arthur as well as (or as unwell as) the Three-Headed Knight and the Hiccoughing Guard. Eric Idle ia also actively involved as Sir Robin, Maynard, Roger, a Guard, and the Historian Who Isn’t A.J.P. Taylor…plus some other stuff my limited space precludes noting. One of Gilliam and Jones’s cleverest strategies is to juxtapose 6th century Breton with 20th century England. Actually, not only juxtapose them but to have the former and latter interact without prior warning. Yes, this creates some confusion but the plot lags on fewer occasions and younger persons in the audience will feel more at home.
According to various historical sources, there was not one Arthur but hundreds…perhaps thousands in 6th century England. Indeed, here in Dallas in the year 2003, there are thousands of Arthurs now living in the North Texas region. How many kings? Ooodles of Kings but no kings; however, back then (i.e. 6th century), there were quite a few.
According to generally reliable research sources, for example, Geoffrey of Monmouth (about 1100-1155 A.D.) recorded Arthur as a High-King of Britain. He was the son of his predecessor, Uther Pendragon and nephew of King Ambrosius. As a descendant of High-King Eudaf Hen’s nephew, Conan Meriadoc, Arthur’s grandfather, had crossed the Channel from Brittany and established the dynasty at the beginning of the 5th century. The Breton King Aldrien had been asked to rescue Britain from the turmoil in which it found itself after the Roman administration had departed. He sent his brother, Constantine, to help. Constantine appears to have been the historical self-proclaimed British Emperor who took the last Roman troops from Britain in a vain attempt to assert his claims on the Continent in 407. Chronologically speaking, it is just possible he was King Arthur’s grandfather. Arthur’s Breton Ancestry was recorded by Gallet.
Of course, historical material such as this brought tears of joy to the eyes of both Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones (also their parents). They were inspired by it to bring the story of King Arthur and the Holy Grail to the sometimes silver screen. This they have done. Truly, the Pendragons are the stuff of legend. Predictably, Gilliam and Jones took certain liberties to achieve enhanced dramatic effect, adding some important new information revealed by their own historical research. For example, details about martial arts for quadriplegics, the Sepulcher of the Holy Grenade and its Killer Rabbit, aerodynamics of various species of migrating swallows, and interior decorating (e.g. curtains) in 6th century royal quarters. Exciting new stuff indeed.
Who said in 1974 that “They just don’t make great movies anymore”? Well, whoever said that could not be more wrong.