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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Caught on Tape: Guinevere

As I just finished reading Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woollsey, Guinevere is very much on my mind. Interestingly enough, I know fairly little about the famous Arthurian legend or his bride. I have never read the original legend, but this novel really has propelled me to learn more about the characters and their stories. I want to get to know Guinevere better. Movies and television shows about Arthur and his knights are numerous. I tried to choose some where Guinevere might be more prominent or show a different view. Let’s take a look – I am interested to hear if you have seen any of these and what you thought.

Guinevere (1994)

“When war breaks out in Camelot, Princess Guinevere (Sheryl Lee) is whisked off to live in safety with High Priestess Morgan L'Fei (Brid Brennan) as mystical wizard Merlin's (Donald Pleasence) predictions come true and Arthur (Sean Patrick Flanery) becomes King of Camelot. To bring peace, Guinevere must forsake her love for Lancelot (Noah Wyle) and become queen. This made-for-TV take on the Arthurian legend tells the story from a woman's point of view.” (from Netflix)

Let’s kick this thing off with a movie that appears to focus on Guinevere’s side of the story. Arthurian legends are often told from a male perspective (being either from Arthur’s or one of his knight’s perspectives). This was a made-for-tv movie for Lifetime based on the three novels by none other than…Persia Woolley. Guinevere is played by Sheryl Lee and it also stars Noah Wyle (from ER) as her lover, Lancelot. I wonder how closely the movie follows the novels? It seems to have gotten not the greatest reviews, mostly saying that it was one dimensional and more a women’s lib piece. I’m sorry Persia! I was unable to find clips of this film anywhere on the net.

Mists of Avalon (2001)

“Director Eli Udel's Emmy-winning television miniseries gives King Arthur's Camelot a feminist slant as Avalon high priestess Viviane (Anjelica Huston) and sisters Morgaine (Julianna Margulies) and Morgause (Joan Allen) battle for control of the kingdom. Viviane manipulates her own sister into marrying a king in order to produce an amenable heir, but deceit, magic and human fallibility threaten to destroy both the plan and Avalon itself.” (from Netflix)

Now we move on to another made-for-tv miniseries – which has received soaring reviews – and is also from the female perspective. This miniseries is also based on a book by the same name by Marion Zimmer Bradley. This movie seems to focus more on the characters of Viviane, Morgaine and Morgause, but Guinevere is certainly a prominent character. This miniseries follows from the beginning to the end of Arthur’s reign and is told as a sort of flash back from Morgaine’s perspective. Starring Julianna Margulies, Anjelica Huston, and Joan Allen as the three main women characters, that is a stellar lineup. Guinevere (spelled Gwenhwyfar) is played by Samantha Mathis.  You can check out my review here.

I chose this scene particularly for when Arthur introduces Guinevere to Lancelot. It is about 5:30 into this clip.

King Arthur (2004)

“King Arthur (Clive Owen) and the Knights of the Round Table are struggling to retain power amid a shaky political landscape in Antoine Fuqua's thrilling take on the myth of Camelot, which is steeped in gritty realism and the politics of its time. As the Roman Empire falls, everyone is trying to wrest control, but time is marching toward the Dark Ages. Stephen Dillane and Keira Knightley co-star as Merlin and Guinevere, respectively.” (from Netflix)

This is the only movie from all of the ones that will be featured today that I have actually seen, and I enjoyed it enough. This movie attempts to set the legend squarely within the Dark Ages and tries to get into the politics of the time. After having read Child of the Northern Spring it all makes a little more sense to me now – the historical setting that is. There really is a lot of tension between Gwen and Arthur throughout this movie – and I really didn’t find myself liking her much at all. She was kick-ass, but less likable. But I think that they did a very good job of depicting the time and situations that they would have encountered – less mythological, more realistic. I would recommend it – but be warned, it is heavy on the violence. There are some fabulous battle scenes. Featuring Clive Owen as Arthur and Keira Knightly as Guinevere.

Knights of the Round Table (1954)

“Nominated for Best Art Direction, Set Direction and Best Sound Recording at the Academy Awards, this 1953 film was MGM's first Cinemascope offering. Starring Robert Taylor, the film recounts the efforts of Sir Lancelot to save Camelot from King Arthur's (Mel Ferrer) destructive son, Modred. Lancelot was forbidden from the Round Table after the cuckolded king discovered Lancelot was trysting with Queen Guinevere (Ava Gardner).” (from Netflix)

I have to admit, I love old movies. I just like they way they are presented and the air about them. Sometimes, you just need a good old movie to get you away from all of the grisly war and steamy sex scenes of so many of today’s movies. This is one of those kinds of films – something you could certainly watch with your whole family. Not the best acting – but it is what I expect when I think of those cheesy classic old movies. Starring Mel Ferrer as Arthur and Ava Gardner as Guinevere.

Since the site didn’t allow me to embed the video clips, I am providing the links to them. I also wanted you to be able to see it in the wide screen – because that was the big thing, a first for MGM. The first is the wedding scene from the movie – Guinevere looks amazing. The second clip is the trailer for the movie – mostly because it made me laugh. My boyfriend was listening and was like, “how old is this movie?” You have to watch it.

Camelot (2011)

“Moving from King Arthur's birth to his eventual death, Camelot will be a tale of the Arthurian legends underpinned by historical authenticity.” (from The Pendragon website)

Coming to a premium channel near you in 2011, Starz is tackling this historical drama. There isn’t a lot of information I can find out there yet. One of the producers from The Tudors is working with this project. The cast will feature Joseph Fiennes as Merlin, Jamie Campbell Bower as Arthur, and Tamsin Egerton as Guinevere. To quote Chris Chibnall, who is principally in charge of this show, “this is an adult drama; I think the great and amazing thing about Camelot is you can talk about political pursuits. You can talk about great agendas. You can talk about a King bringing hope to a turbulent kingdom. But the extraordinary thing in all the versions of Camelot and Arthurian legend is it is all about the romance. It’s all about the passion. It’s all about great ideals compromised by falling in love with the wrong person and great passions conflicting with…” (from The Pendragon website)

There is a tiny (and I do mean tiny) sneak peek at Camelot at the end of this trailer for the new Starz shows. I guess we will have to settle with that for now.

I know I didn’t cover them all – are there any others that stand out to you? Have you seen any of these? What did you think?

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I'm sorry to say this, but I think Mists of Avalon is truly dreadful.

    The BBC's 'Merlin', now in its third series, is very watchable entertainment, with very likeable characters.

    Joseph Campbell provides a summary of the Grail Quest in one of his TV programs. He illustrates his talk with some film from a very ancient black-and-white Arthur film, showing Arthur waving his sword. There are no clips on the web. It's emotional, moving, and illuminating. He says nothing about Guinevere.

    For books on Guinevere, the best I've come across is 'Eleanor of Aquitaine' by Jean Markale. Eleanor was the real historical model for Guinevere. The book contains half-a-chapter about Guinevere. It's quite a racy read, as history books go.

  2. Robur - I haven't seen Mists of Avalon but it looked interesting to me and Merlin has been on my Netflix list for awhile. Thanks for the information!


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