Tag Archives: Nicol Williamson

Excalibur (1981)

excalibur 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: The sword is magical.

The mystical sword named Excalibur gets cast into a stone by Uther (Gabriel Byrne) and the wizard Merlin (Nicol Williamson) proclaims that the next man to be able to remove it will become the King of England. Many try and fail, but years later it is Uther’s illegitimate son Arthur (Nigel Terry) who is able to do it.  Although very young he is able to create the Kingdom of Camelot with the help of Merlin. He also marries Guenevere (Cheri Lunghi) who has an affair with his most trusted knight Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) and then his half-sister Morgana (Helen Mirren) steals away Merlin’s powers and uses them to try and destroy the kingdom.

The story is based on the book by Thomas Malory who supposedly wrote it while he was incarcerated. Although this film is considered a classic now it was not as well received when it was first released. Critic Roger Ebert called it ‘a mess’ and the great Pauline Kael described the dialogue as being ‘atrocious’. For me I found it long, but enjoyable even though I’m not crazy for this type of genre.

One of the things that I didn’t particularly care for, or find all that exciting were the battle scenes. Watching men roll around in the mud with their swords doesn’t come off as too interesting when compared to gun battles. There were also too many of them and all seemed too similar to the others with the final one ruined by having it shrouded in fog. In reality the knight’s armor was also always made by either steel or iron, but for this film they created it out of aluminum, which made it appear too flimsy and clanky. It is also given a bright glow, which was intentional, but I didn’t care for it.

What I did enjoy was the atmosphere particularly when they go off to search for the grail. The scene where the men approach an area that has dead bodies hanging from the trees and a crow sitting on a branch biting off one of the corpses’ eyeballs, which apparently took several days of continuously rolling the camera before the bird did what they wanted, is in one of the best moments in the film. I also liked the magical glow given off by Camelot when it is seen from a distance, but I would’ve liked a shot of the magical kingdom seen up close, which never occurs and was probably due to budgetary restraints, but would’ve been cool.

The performances are all-around excellent. Terry does quite well in the lead playing Arthur at different stages of his life, but I was most impressed at the way he came off as convincingly being only 19 at the beginning even though he was really already 35. Clay, who plays Lancelot, also looks like he was barely over 20 when in reality he was 34. Williamson is amusing as Merlin and Mirren is effectively evil as the villainess. This is also a great chance to see Patrick Stewart and Liam Neeson in some early roles.

The movie moves along briskly and is overall entertaining although some the scene transitions and dramatic arcs were awkward. Those that are into medieval fantasy will clearly enjoy it more.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: April 10, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Boorman

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Laughter in the Dark (1969)

laughter in the dark

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Man obsesses over teen.

This film is based on an early novel by Vladimir Nabokov, who is more famous for writing Lolita and the story here has a similar theme to that one. The plot revolves around Edward (Nicol Williamson) who is a successful middle-aged art curator, but bored with his marriage and looking for an escape. While watching a film inside a theater one day he spots the beautiful Margot (Anna Karina). While she is only 18 he becomes madly obsessed with her and tries to start-up a relationship. She initially resists, but then realizes that he has a lot of money and decides to play-him. On the side she has a passionate relationship with Herve (Jean-Claude Drouot) who begins to work for Edward as his assistant. Initially Edward has no clue that Herve and Margot are cavorting around behind his back, but eventually he catches on and plots a dark revenge only to find himself as the victim.

While the story has its share of intriguing moments it suffers from featuring a main character that is not relatable.  Fantasizing about having sex with a beautiful, younger woman is fine, but he shouldn’t expect her to automatically reciprocate those same feelings and even if she does he should be concerned that it is only because of his money, which are thoughts that he never once seems to consider. He also spouts out right from the beginning of how much he ‘loves’ her like a lovesick 14-year-old, but a man his age would normally be wise enough to realize that there is a big difference between that and sexual attraction, which is all that this really is.

It also takes way too long for Edward to catch on to the affair occurring between Herve and Margot even though anyone else would’ve seen the red flags a mile-away. It is for these reasons and the way he gets taken advantage of time and again that makes the character come off as suffering from some serious mental defect that is not in any way a normal for even a halfway intelligent person.

It all would’ve worked much better had Richard Burton remained on as the film’s star. He was the original choice for the part and even filmed a few scenes before being kicked off the project due to repeatedly showing up drunk. Williamson is a fine actor and has an impressive resume, but he’s rather benign here while Burton would’ve been able to bring in an extra dimension and because he was older would’ve made the contrasting age difference between him and Margot even stronger.

Karina on the other hand is stunning and an absolute beauty to behold. She was much older than what the part called for, but her wicked, conniving performance more than makes up for it as she eats up every scene that she is in and everyone else in it.

It was filmed on the island of Majorca, which allows from some exotic Mediterranean scenery and Raymond Leppard’s harpsicord soundtrack is pleasing. I also, for the most part, enjoyed the story, which manages to remain intriguing all the way up until its unsatisfying conclusion. The drama though, particularly at the beginning, is clumsy and the whole thing ultimately comes off as a good director’s weakest work.

laughter in the dark 2

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 11, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 44Minutes

Rated X

Director: Tony Richardson

Studio: Lopert Pictures Corporation

Available: None at this time.