Warner Bros' taps Guy Ritchie for Arthurian film franchise

Deadline is reporting that Warner Bros. is entering into a deal with Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie to create a franchise based on the legendary figure of King Arthur. The deal would see Ritchie direct 6 films using Sir Thomas Malory’s 15th century work Le Morte d’Arthur as source material. A screenplay for the first film has written by Joby Harold, who wrote and directed the passable thriller Awake in 2007.

Ritchie has a noted interest in Arthurian legend having previously been linked with a remake of John Boorman’s 1981 adventure Excalibur. Warner’s too have been keen to get in on the legend having previously tried to get a film based on Arthur and Lancelot, starring Colin Farrell, made.

Adapting Malory’s work is not without its problems. His first book, which details Arthur’s early life and rise to king, features tales of mass genocide (as Arthur orders the sacrifice of all first-born sons), incest (as Arthur unknowingly sleeps with his half-sister), and paternal abandonment (as Arthur sends his illegitimate son Mordred from that previous union off to die). This is the murkier side of the legend and something that this new series is very likely to skim over. The birth of Mordred is important as he comes back later in the tale so that will probably need to be include, but quite how the manner of his birth is covered will be contentious.

Still there is rich soil to plough in the rest of the first book, as Arthur becomes king, unites England, marries Guinevere, establishes Camelot, and sets up the Round Table. All of this is very cinematic, which is why we’ve seen more than 30 films attempt to tell this story before. The better known of these include 1963’s animated classic The Sword in the Stone, 1967’s Camelot, 1975’s hilarious spoof Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1981’s Excalibur, 1995’s First Knight, and most recently 2004’s King Arthur.

This most recent attempt which teamed Disney with star director Antoine Fuqua, and saw Clive Owen as Arthur and Keira Knightley as Guinevere, should act as a cautionary tale for Warner’s and Ritchie. King Arthur set the action in the Dark Ages, which is true to Malory’s version of the tale, but was widely panned by audiences and critics for not being the traditional Middle Ages chivalristic tale that many associate Arthur with.

Adapting material that has been previously adapted for screen is not something that fazes Ritchie, as Sherlock Holmes was one of the most adapted characters in all of literature prior to Ritchie’s reimagining of the character. Whether such a modern approach to the character would work in the case of Arthur, or is even considered by Warner’s and Ritchie will be interesting to see.

While this may seem like an odd mix of director and material Warner’s clearly has fate in the director, who has just finished filming on his version of the 1960’s spy TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. for the studio. The green-light from the studio may depend on how U.N.C.L.E. is received on its release later this year, but for now colour us intrigued by this news.