The unrequited love story of Lancelot and Guinevere in King Arthur (2004) remains an underrated and overlooked romance despite the film’s Blockbuster status. The longing in Lancelot’s eyes and Ioan Gruffud’s brooding Byronic stares still gets me every time. Though I admit to being a sucker for unrequited/one-sided romances.
In this Arthurian adaptation, it’s hard to know if Lancelot’s unspoken feelings of true love are returned by Guinevere (Keira Knightley) – for she must marry Arthur to create a strategic political alliance.
But whether Guinevere has feelings for Lancelot (and I believe she does – or would if she had the luxury to choose him) is inconsequential. For it’s Lancelot’s tragic love for Guinevere that makes the love story so epic and memorable.
CLASSIC ROMANTIC MOMENT OF THE MONTH
Since this month marks the 15th anniversary of the movie premiere of King Arthur (2004), I thought it would be fitting to put the spotlight on the love story of Guinevere and Lancelot in this film. Specifically on the end battle scene when Lancelot daringly rescues Guinevere because of his love for her.
However, if you haven’t seen the film and want to check it out, two versions exist. The theatrical release and the Director’s Cut. For the full unrequited love story, it’s important to watch the Director’s Cut since a few key Lancelot and Guinevere scenes were cut from the theatrical version. That said, just be warned the Director’s Cut is unrated and more violent.
THE LEAD IN
In this version of the Arthurian legend, Sir Lancelot is a Sarmatian knight during the Dark Ages (rather than the medieval time period) forced into service by the Romans. His leader is Arthur. And while Arthur doesn’t have a round table, he’s a devout Christian believing in an ideal world of equality and freedom.
But just as Lancelot’s fifteen years of service is up, the Romans force him and his fellow knights to perform one more dangerous mission. Only everything is not as it seems.
Soon, the Sarmatian knights and Arthur team up with the Woads (Briton rebels fighting against Roman rule) to fight the Saxons and ultimately create a new Briton free of Roman and Saxon rule.
In the midst of it all, Arthur and Lancelot rescue a young warrior pagan, Guinevere. However, she is secretly working with Merlin (leader of the Woads) and wants Arthur to join their side. So, while she romances Arthur to win him over, Lancelot falls in love with the brave Guinevere. But he’s wary of joining a fight that doesn’t have anything to do with him.
Still, Lancelot, loyal to Arthur and now Guinevere, finally decides to fight at Arthur’s side in the end – even if it leads to his death. But one wonders if the greater motivation is for Guinevere. While the two don’t share much dialogue throughout the film, Lancelot’s stares of yearning tell a story all their own.
THE ROMANTIC MOMENT: LANCELOT AND GUINEVERE
As we come to the main battle at the end of the film (“The Battle of Badon Hill“), Lancelot, Arthur, the Knights, Guinevere, and the Woads fight against the Saxons (led by Cerdic and Cynric).
During the battle, Guinevere comes face to face with Cynric and fights in hand to hand combat against him. But she’s losing.
In the distance, Lancelot, in the midst of battle, sees Guinevere struggling against Cynric. His face says it all. The woman he secretly loves is about to die.
He hesitates for a moment. Lancelot turns to look back at Arthur and then he turns back around to look at Guinevere. He then makes a difficult choice. He’s going to help Guinevere, not Arthur.
Lancelot, in all his epic, chivalrous glory, then fights across the battlefield trying to make it to Guinevere in time. He rides on his horse, jumps over fire, and fights off attackers. And just as Cynric is about to overwhelm Guinevere, Lancelot stops him with his sword. Guinevere looks up at Lancelot from the ground in awe.
Lancelot and Cynric now engage in combat. This time, Lancelot has the upper hand. But it’s momentary. Cynric soon catches him unawares with a crossbow – hitting him directly in the chest with an arrow.
Guinevere stops to stare at the dying Lancelot, emotions heavy on her face. But she’s now far from him, fighting other Saxons.
With his last bit of adrenaline, Lancelot throws his sword at Cynric, mortally wounding him. And in a final attack, Lancelot then finishes him off.
Meanwhile, Guinevere fights across the battlefield to get to Lancelot.
But he collapses to the ground, near death. His final breaths moments away. Still, he knows he saved her.
Guinevere reaches him – just as the battle ends. Arthur has defeated Cerdic and the Saxons but not in time to save Lancelot.
Guinevere leans over the dying Lancelot and sits with him in his final moments. It’s a tense moment. Theirs was a love story that could never be. And his death marked the end of their unspoken romance.
In the end, King Arthur marries Queen Guinevere and together they plan to rule a new Briton.
THE LEGEND OF LANCELOT AND GUINEVERE
One can’t deny the power of Gruffudd’s emotional performance as he rides across the bloody battlefield to selflessly save the woman he loves. He knows he’ll never be able to be with her but that’s not what matters. Lancelot chooses to save her because he loves her not because she’ll choose him. His is a selfless love – making this unrequited romance all the more compelling and epic.
Is there anything more chivalrous and romantic than a knight rescuing his “lady” in battle? Guinevere may not be a damsel in distress (thank goodness) but she is in need of some rescuing. And Lancelot came just in time to save her life.
Yes, it did lead to his own death. But it was a death and a fight of his choosing. And as Lancelot narrates at the end of the film, he and the other fallen knights will live on forever in the “legends of King Arthur and his knights.”
And no doubt, in the legend of the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere as well.
Have you seen King Arthur (2004)? What are your thoughts on the story of Lancelot and Guinevere in this version of the legend? Did you find his rescue of Guinevere romantic in the end battle scene? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures