“Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
This favorite line of President Kennedy juxtaposes the creation of a utopia with the ubiquitous troubles of maintaining those ideals by imperfect mortals — who, inevitably, can never escape the pitfalls of human nature. Camelot asks the question, Can mankind ever escape its worst enemy: itself?
The Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot was brought to the screen in 1967 with a booming budget to provide grand, sweeping sets and costumes that breathe cinematic life into this well-known medieval tale of knights, chivalry, politics, and forbidden love.
Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Harris, and Franco Nero shine as the mythic characters of Guenevere, King Arthur, and Sir Lancelot. Their complex relationship is intertwined with the creation of a utopian round table government and kingdom — that is ultimately brought down by the actions of those who most believed in it.
The musical is a stage classic, and the film provides what the stage cannot: massive sets and costumes that stun the eyes while bringing you into director Joshua Logan’s vision of Camelot. Catchy songs are at times jaunty (“What Do the Simple Folk Do?”) while others simmer with the indescribable pain reserved only for love that is as powerful as it is doomed to destroy anyone it touches (“I Loved You Once In Silence”).
Themes of just governing systems were particularly relevant during the film’s Vietnam War era release, and these themes continue to remain relevant as contemporary notions of democracy remain tested and retested in modern times.
Children will enjoy the songs and scenes — but they may also note the familiarity of Richard Harris who, decades after playing King Arthur, brought a special magic to his portrayal of Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films. Potter aficionados may also enjoy the political philosophy discussions present in both Harry Potter and Camelot regarding the best use of ‘might’ in enforcing ‘right’.
The movie opens at the close, with King Arthur surveying the tragic conclusion of decisions gone awry. His magical mentor Merlin urges him to look back to the beginning.
Arthur and Guenevere meet and find love in the songs “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “Camelot.” King Arthur creates a political ideal with timeless symbolism that is as applicable now as the decades and centuries prior: a democratic round table governance, where men can come together to share ideas without a single ruler at the head.
Word spreads, bringing French knight Lancelot to Camelot. While most do not trust his boastful swagger (“C’est Moi”), Arthur and Lancelot quickly form a nearly impenetrable bond. A love triangle emerges that threatens to undo the greatness King Arthur has created.
As the story climaxes to dark conclusions, an idealistic youth crosses paths with King Arthur. Perhaps all is not lost! Tom wishes to be a knight of the round table, espousing dedication to Arthur’s original ideas: “Not might ‘makes’ right, but might ‘for’ right.” Tom brings with him a spark of hope that Camelot may be a phoenix that will rise anew from its own ashes.
Join me as we welcome this beautiful movie back to the big screen as we continue our PIX Flix series this season. Also, remember to check out any of our social media for what’s coming up next at WCT or talk to one of the friendly house staff!