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, Liam Neeson, Cherie Lunghi, Patrick Stewart and Helen Mirren are enhanced by names such as Nicol Williamson, Gabriel Byrne, Nicholas Clay, Ciaran Hinds, Paul Geoffrey, Keith Buckley, Niall O'Brien, Clive Swift, Robert Addie and Corin Redgrave.
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 and Telsche, plus the now well-known Charley, 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 'Behind the Sword in the Stone' but this so far hasn't been released on DVD.
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.
Walking around the film's shooting locations was like walking into a dream.
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.
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.
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 .
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.
Immediately behind the camera in my then-and-now image is a pedestrian footbridge, 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 shot 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 offer 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."
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 tell 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
One of my two 'Excalibur' DVDs - with my 'Sword Of Power' letter-opener.
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 trepidation. 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!"