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King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword Is Guy Ritchie’s 6th-Century Gangster Movie

What if the legendary King Arthur wasn’t a romantic and noble defender of Britain but a tortured Dark Ages gangster whose brothel childhood instilled in him street smarts and an irrepressible scrappiness? Swap Camelot for cockney East London (no bovver) and guns for a Mage-forged magic sword that can lay waste to an entire contingent of the evil usurper’s men and you’ve got Guy Ritchie’s noisy, frenetic take on the Arthurian myth in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Seems Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes) can’t help himself when it comes to injecting a little bit (or a lot) of gangster stuff into his movies. As Arthur, Charlie Hunnam moves through the underbelly of Londinium like a minor celebrity, unaware of his royal lineage. Everyone knows his name because everyone owes him money. He runs his protection racket with a heart of gold while Jude Law’s Vortigern sits (wrongfully) on the throne at Camelot, draped in white furs like an Italian don (or his own Young Pope). He’s made a deal with dark forces (this is no spoiler, you can see it coming from the opening minutes of the movie) that’s allowed him to seize control of the kingdom—but at a great cost.

And he would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling Mages and their magic sword of destiny. Aided by the band of do-gooders that make up the resistance to Vortigern’s rule (Djimon Hounsou, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Kill List’s Neil Maskell, and Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen) Arthur is forced to accept his fate as the only tough guy in England who can take down the king(pin).

Comparatively, Arthur’s trials make pulling Excalibur from the stone seem like a cinch. 6th-century Britain is populated by packs of hungry CG wolves, giant reptiles, and even bigger bats. There are Vortigern’s men (who aren’t at all opposed to killing women and children) to get through, and Arthur’s own tormented psyche to contend with (he can’t wield the sword Merlin made until he confronts his past).

All this makes for a somewhat confused plot with little resemblance to any version of Arthurian legend we’re familiar with. But Ritchie has always been more about style than substance—it’s just that it takes someone as talented as his Sherlock star Robert Downey Jr. to carry that kind of thing. Hunnam isn’t there yet, though Law makes the most of every scene he’s given. Gillen, too, is lots of fun to watch, taking his Littlefinger slipperiness to the next level with a character called Goosefat Bill.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword hits theatres this Friday, May 12. Check out Morgan and Teddy’s InnerSpace interview with Hunnam and Ritchie below: