Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reel Connections: The Round Table in "Camelot"

I recently saw the classic musical Camelot (1967) starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, and Franco Nero. I've always had a great love of lore surrounding King Arthur, and perhaps that love allowed me to overlook and ignore some of Camelot's faults. I know this is the minority opinion, but I enjoyed Redgrave and Harris' performances. Certainly, they were not the greatest musical actors ever, but they did much more than mere justice to Lerner and Loewe's beautiful music. Of course, that soft spot I have for musicals makes me lose some of my critical guard. But despite some of its falterings, its beautiful story, its lush set, gorgeous costumes, even great acting, serves to elevate it to a musical classic (if that was ever in doubt).
Like I said, Arthurian lore has always fascinated me. Perhaps part of this love come the near-tangibility of the Arthur-legends. They're so full of magical objects and enchanted places that anyone with half an imagination yearns to find the real sources of Camelot, Avalon, Excalibur, the Holy Grail, and of course, the famous Round Table.
Camelot (1967)
So when I was watching the film, I noticed something about the film's Round Table that I thought I should mention. Towards the end of Act I, after King Arthur has knighted Lancelot, he has an inkling that something might be going on between Guinevere and Lancelot. He tries to disavow himself of these ideas, and am inspiration soliloquy of sorts with Excalibur, his trusty magic sword. He finishes his declaration of trust in both his ideals and his trust sword, and the camera slows pans out and its revealed that Arthur is standing in front of his Round Table. A grand orchestration of "Camelot" begins to play as the camera pulls back, the knights file in, and the audience leaves Act I with an image of Arthur enjoying the fruits of his labor and vision: his knights surrounding his glorious Round Table.
Richard Harris as Arthur
Camelot (1967)

Perhaps it was because there was such emphasis on the scene that I noticed the Round Table as I did. If you look at it, it seems to be striped green and white, coming out a central design. At one end, there is a large block-y square, near where Arthur stands. I have a unique perspective from a lobby still above that gives a better view of this.
The Winchester Table

Winchester Castle

Alone, this is not unique alone. But like I said, I'm a little more familiar with the Arthur legend than most. For a while, one of the candidates for the "real" Round Table is a round table that sits, mounted, in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. It is painted a glorious green and white, with a lovely central design, and a large block towards one end, where actually an image of King Arthur is painted.
King Edward I
Winchester Castle Great Hall
Unfortunately, Arthur enthusiasts have been around for quite a while. King Edward I, as it so happens, was a great fan of King Arthur and longed to be compared to him. The table's wood dates from his reign and it is assumed that he commissioned it for a tournament. Centuries later, King Henry VIII commissioned the recognizable paint job on the table.

I think that it is fairly clear that the designers of the film's Round Table turned to this copy of the Table for the inspiration. I don't know whether the Table's authenticity had been disproved by the 1960's, but even if it was, the makers would have known how recognizable it is. Furthermore, their modified design,  which is not a direct copy of the design on the Winchester Table, is based on a historical piece, of sorts, even if its not the real deal. You know that I always think it's interesting when you can point to the origin of a prop's design, and I think in this instance, when a prop's design was based on a prop of sorts from the Middle Ages, the story is quite fascinating.

1 comment:

  1. My late wife, Barbara Raymond Stewart, played Guinevere's lady in waiting on the film. They did a lot of all night shooting (exterior of the castle on Warner Bros. back lot). I got to walk around the sets and saw the round table and dramatic interiors. My future boss Jerry Gebr did some of the scenic work for the interiors. I met Vanessa and my wife got to spend a lot of time with her. Side note: The dresses they wore were made of leather and weighed close to 70 lbs. My wife's wig was made of real nun's hair and hung to her waist.

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