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King Arthur and a brush with Hollywood

BY LÉO CHARBONNEAU | MAR 10 2008

The 1995 film First Knight is not one of Cory Rushton’s all-time favourites, but the Arthurian scholar may be quietly hoping that the film attracts a big audience when it’s re-released this April in Blu-ray high-definition format. That’s because one of the special features of the new package will be a commentary track recorded by Dr. Rushton, an English professor at St. Francis Xavier University.

The film, starring Sean Connery and Richard Gere, is based on the 12th-century King Arthur legends. Dr. Rushton was approached to provide the commentary by Michael Gillis of MogoMedia, who is producing the new Blu-Ray edition for Sony Pictures. Dr. Rushton readily accepted – he had in fact used the film in one of his courses at another institution.

Dr. Rushton was asked because of his 2005 book, The Medieval Quest for Arthur, co-written with University of British Columbia colleague Robert Rouse. “The beauty of the Arthurian legend is it’s so rich and changing repeatedly. It’s a living, evolving legend,” he says.

To prepare himself for his brush with Hollywood fame, Dr. Rushton watched the film again, with several books at his side for reference. The idea, he says, wasn’t necessarily to point out historical inaccuracies, but to provide some depth and context for the film’s Arthurian themes. But the producer did want him to be critical, when warranted. The ending, in particular, deserves criticism, he says, with Arthur buried at sea in some kind of Viking ritual “that is completely inappropriate.”

Dr. Rushton’s commentary was recorded last fall in a studio a couple of hours outside of Halifax. The producer “told me how to pace myself and have a little something to say about each scene,” he says. “We did it more or less in one take, which they told me afterwards was rare, but they may have just been flattering me.”

The experience was “extremely enjoyable and professional,” he says, adding that many historical movies might benefit from a similar treatment. And what does Dr. Rushton think of First Knight now? “It gets better the more I see it.” The Blu-ray edition is scheduled for release April 29.

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