This is quite definitely my all-time favourite film. It ticks all the boxes for me; exciting, visually stunning, sharp dialogue and wonderful performances from all involved. Released in 1981, its IMDB page is here. Early appearances by actors such as Nigel Terry (King Arthur), Liam Neeson (Gawain), Cherie Lunghi (Guenevere), Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance) and Helen Mirren (Morgana) are enhanced by names such as Nicol Williamson (Merlin), Gabriel Byrne (Uther Pendragon), Nicholas Clay (Lancelot), Ciaran Hinds (Lot), Paul Geoffrey (Percival), Keith Buckley (Uryens), Niall O'Brien (Kay), Clive Swift (Ector), Robert Addie (Mordred) and Corin Redgrave (Cornwall).
Adapted from Sir Thomas Malory's classic medieval work Morte D'Arthur, the scripwriters headed by Rospo Pallenburg have given the director John Boorman marvellous material from which to make his movie - and Boorman included his daughters Katrine (Igrayne) and Telsche (Lady of the Lake), plus the now well-known Charley (Young Mordred), in the cast.
I accept the criticism that the film has historical inaccuracies - for example, the plate armour worn by the knights, supposedly in the Dark Ages, did not become generally used until many hundreds of years later - but with such a eye-watering set of scenes to enjoy, who could care?
It is so sad that many of the cast are no longer with us.
There was an hour-long documentary 'Excalibur : Behind the Movie' but this so far hasn't been released on DVD although it has been on UK TV and I have a copy of it. It has been bought by PBS International.
My 'main' web site is here.
Knowing the film so well - I can't begin to count how many times I've watched it - I have always been determined to visit one of the primary film locations and was able in August 2017 to travel to Cahir Castle in County Tipperary, Ireland. Armed with screenshots from the movie, I was able to reproduce many of the scenes, and here display the results. I hope that fellow 'Excalibur' fans enjoy the then-and-now images.
Cahir (pronounced 'care') Castle is found at GPS reference 52.374273 / -7.927119. Access to the surrounding park area is free and unrestricted but there is a modest charge for entrance to the castle itself. A guided tour is available. Youtube has some excellent drone footage views of the castle and immediate areas. If you start up Google Earth and switch to Street View, you can wander about and see inside the Castle area.
Walking around the film's shooting locations was like walking into a dream. My own video footage is here.
Arthur, Sir Ector and Sir Kay gallop towards the south-west corner of the castle.
This view is very easily found, from exactly the same position. Some of the trees have gone and most have considerably grown. In the centre of the above photo has been placed a 'Sword In The Stone' to commemmorate the movie.
The blade and hilt are inscribed with names of local people who were extras in the movie. And ... well .. you just have to try and draw the sword, don't you?
In the film, Uther Pendragon, mortally wounded and pursued by the Duke of Cornwall's knights who have ambushed him, thrusts Excalibur into the stone, swearing that "No-one shall have the sword! No-one shall wield Excalibur...But ME!" This scene was not shot at Cahir, but I've included it because it's such a key point in the story.
Arthur, assisted by Merlin, attacks the western wall where Uryens' knights are storming the castle with a wooden boarding ladder. As Arthur attaches a rope and grappling iron to the wooden ladders, Merlin fastens the rope's other end to nearby horses and whispers in their ears. The horses immediately obey the command and pull away; the ladder, with its ramps and attacking knights, is brought crashing down.
This location is very easily found, as the sally-port in the western castle wall still exists and is approached (cautiously - it's slippery!) up a mound of earth adjacent to the rocks at the foot of the castle wall. The doorway opens up to the castle courtyard interior. You can't open the door, but once inside the castle, it is readily seen from the grassed courtyard.
As Uryens' knights start to encroach into the castle, Leondegrance and Guenevere (top left) are compelled to withdraw to the central redoubt. Here, a hand-to-hand fight is seen on the battlements overlooking the grassed courtyard described above. This view looks south-east from the north-west castle internal walls.
The dark patch at Guenevere's feet is actually a narrow stairway built within the castle walls, and it descends to the arched entrance which leads from the courtyard in thus photo to the grassed enclosure beyond. This stairwell still exists and in the next photo is immediately before the safety rail atop the battlements walkway.
Another easily placed photo, however the castle staff would not allow me to ascend the stone stairway to the top of the battlements so that I could take an exact then-and-now scene, and this is the best angle I could manage. On the stone interior of the battlements there are still traces of fire and smoke damage.
If you conjure up a mental image of Lancelot's arrival to collect Guenevere, he is shown riding his horse briskly along the courtyard here. The scene is filmed from the other side of the view here, and the courtyard is filled with 'village life' - stalls and shops etc. It looks like he has galloped in from quite a distance, but in fact he has ridden just a few yards, as there is a blank wall to the right (to the left in the movie scene) and so he could not have ridden very far!
Uryens' knights gallop along the river bed on the eastern side of the castle, and Arthur encourages Sir Kay and Sir Ector to hold them off, whilst he climbs up another scaling ladder.
This is another very easily reproduced scene - although I wasn't so eager that I wanted to immerse myself in water - which is what the director, John Boorman, seems to have done quite a lot throughout the film! In this scene the cameraman had to work hard to avoid showing the town's main river bridge, just off to the right of the picture. This photo was taken from the pedestrian footbridge which crosses over the river from the car park into the Castle grounds, immediately to the south-east of the ramparts, and which gives free access to the parkland surrounding the west and south-west castle areas.
As Kay and Ector hold off the attackers, Arthur climbs the assault ladder on the eastern wall, suffering a wound, and then jumps off the wall to unseat Uryens as he and his knights fight in the river. Holding Excalibur against Uryens' throat, Arthur persuades Uryens to knight him. Another key point in the film, and a favourite scene for me.
... and easily found, athough again I didn't feel up to wading in the river!
And Merlin's exclamation ... "I never saw this!" Filmed at the same spot in the river at the foot of the eastern castle wall.
This image is from the town's main river bridge (just out of shot as the knights gallop down the river bed) and shows the eastern wall. Uryens and his men gallop away from you towards the pedestrian footbridge just out of sight, as Kay and Ector's men come towards you. The wooden boarding ladders and platform up which Arthur climbs are against the rock face immediately below and in front of the turreted tower. Bear in mind that in the movie there are two boarding ladders - it's the western one which the horses drag down, and this is the eastern one, up which Arthur clambers.
After the battle is won and Arthur in knighted by Uryens, he is tended by Guenevere, the daughter of Leondegrance. This scene was easily the most challenging one to reproduce, as in finding the correct orientation for the photo, it soon became clear that it had been taken from the far side of the river which borders the southern end of the castle park. And ... this area is a private golf course, not accessible from the castle park. What gave the game away was the glint of water from the river, and the very distinctive shape of the tree's bough.
I'm not going to tell you how I managed to gain access, as technically I was trespassing, for which I submit humble apologies to the golf course stewards. But as you see I was determined to take an accurate then-and-now photo. I hope I am forgiven in my quest for the right photo angle.
Walking 50 yards or so west along the golf course's edge with the river, I had to trample down a considerable amount of foliage to take this picture, orientated exactly by the intersection of several points on the castle walls, and the very distinctive tree bough.
Alas, I did not have the delightful Cherie Lunghi to tend to me!
This amazing scene was also not made at Cahir, but I've included it as it has baffled me for years. It's where Lancelot, tortured by his love for Guenevere, as he says in the dialogue, "fights against himself" and is badly injured by a sword which pierces his left hip. It looks so very realistic in the movie that I wrote to Nick Clay to ask how it was done. He so very kindly sent me a handwritten reply, explaining everything ... and nothing! Written from Berlin in November 1992, He says:-
"A question I'm asked so many times and as always, the answer is oh so simple. However, do you believe in magic? Sometimes the mystery is so much more compelling than the truth. Think, if you will, of a small hole, big enough for a prop man's hand, made under the point of the sword. It is of course covered by very fine Irish moss. As my body turns, he (the prop man) slides the offending blade away. Now the edit point - the full sword is seen emerging from my body. Simple, you see, but completely incomprehensible. To this day I cannot see it."
John Boorman so very kindly replied to my letter to him. On the subject of this scene, he said (January 2018) : "I used the same trick in Deliverance with the arrow in Jon Voight's side. You see a shot of the sword/arrow in his side. This is two halves clipped together in a pouch of his flesh dressed with fake blood. He seizes the hilt (but of another whole sword) and wrenches it out. The roar of pain is what convinces."
John went on to say, in response to my questions, that the 'castle' where Igrayne is seduced by Pendragon, after Merlin's spell allows him to gallop across the mist. "Keep the horse ready, I ride out before dawn; and where (1) Lancelot brings Percival to be trained as a squire, (2) where after he sees Guenevere and Morgana coming down the stone steps, he declines Kay's offer to attend the Round Table meeting and (3) where Percival falls off the raised drawbridge; were sets, designed by Tony Pratt and built by the production team.
I am saddened to say that Nicholas Clay died in May, 2000.
Facing the eastern castle and river is the car park, and on the river bank is this memorial to the movie. Can you spot two errors on it?
And finally, a scene from the castle assault. Can you spot something unusual here?
Yes, two of them are clearly smoking cigarettes! I am assuming that this short sequence was a rehearsal, as in the movie the knights are climbing the walls in a rather leisurely fashion. Maybe this scene was included in the final cut by mistake - unless the film editors were having a bit of fun! Would any of the 'knights' or technical crew like to enlighten me?
I do hope that you enjoyed this web site as much as I enjoyed my visit to Cahir and assembling these pages. I would be most pleased to hear from fellow 'Excalibur' enthusiasts, and especially from anyone associated with making the movie. You can email me, but remove the anti-spam extra 'z' from the email address.
If you go to Cahir, have a pint in Morrisseys bar, and admire the armour breastplate made by renowned armourer Terry English (did you spot him in the film? He's the sword-maker who looks up sharply as Arthur thinks about stealing one of his swords). The signatures are from many of the technical crew and stunt riders. Thanks to Brian Costigan for the photo.
Terry English can be contacted via his web site
Adam Swift, son of Clive Swift who played the part of Sir Ector, says : "My only memory of [my father] in making the movie is that he was by no means a natural horseman or good with animals. He had to learn to ride from scratch, and with considerable trepi\dation. We children thought it was very funny to see him playing a warrior on a horse - a very long way from his natural self, and indeed from Richard Bucket, the role for which he is probably best known!" (September 2017)
< Clive Swift as Sir Ector : "I remember my first joust. It looks far worse than it feels!"
I am very saddened to report that Clive Swift died on February 1st 2019 after a short illness.
And this is the scene where Guenevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Sir Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) meet for the first time, as Lancelot arrives to escort Guenevere to Camelot, for her wedding to King Arthur.
Never have I seen a more intense portrayal of Love At First Sight, a powerful theme and one which is ultimately so destructive for all the parties concerned.
This sequence was also filmed at Cahir Castle.
And finally - a more fitting setting for my 'Excalibur' letter-opener.
Merlin : "Behold! The Sword of Power, Excalibur! Forged when the world was young, and bird and beast and flower were one with Man ... and Death was but a Dream."
[to Uther Pendragon, crossly] "Speak the words!"
Uther Pendragon : "One Land, one King, that is my Peace, Cornwall."
Duke of Cornwall : "Lord Uther ... if I yield to the Sword of Power ... what will you yield?"
Uther Pendragon : "Me yield?"
Merlin : "He has given - now you must!"
Uther Pendragon : "The land from here to the sea shall be yours, if you enforce the King's will."
Duke of Cornwall : [considers, then after a pause] "Done! King Uther, let us feast together! To my castle!"
and later, fatally, on seeing Igrayne ... Uther Pendragon : "I must have her!"
the Charm of Making : "Anhal natraq, urthvas bethud, dochiel dienve."
Here are some audio clips : "Looking at the cake's like looking at the future" : "A dream to some, a nightmare to others" : "Ready my knights for battle" : "What is the secret of the grail?"
These Google Earth Street View 360-degree 'panorama' photographs taken by various visitors to Cahir Castle may not work with Firefox, IE, Opera etc; you might have to use or download Chrome in order to access them:-
https://earth.app.goo.gl/A2JW8 : the battlements hand-to-hand fight between Leondegrance and the attacking knights.
The 'Grassed Courtyard' on the far side of that battlement is https://earth.app.goo.gl/Nmdyk
https://earth.app.goo.gl/UxNe4 : grassed courtyard where Lancelot and Leondegrance enter after Lancelot arrives to collect Guenevere. As they enter via the stone archway to the left, Guenevere descends down the stone stairway from the battlements. After the 'Love at First Sight' scene, Lancelot and Leondegrance exit via the small arched doorway to the right, with the steps in front. https://earth.app.goo.gl/hBU8W is the view from the top of the staircase.
The 'River Battle' views are here : https://earth.app.goo.gl/Bkr16 and https://earth.app.goo.gl/y7M6P
And here are some fascinating video links, sent by my correspondent Tony Rojas:-
"Excalibur" related links
And finally - if you had a load of cash to spare - these items came up on various Movie Auction sites, selling for a great deal more than I could justify! Thanks again to Tony Rojas for the photos.
Merlin's robe and helmet