You have to feel for poor Arthur Pendragon; despite past glory, he’s had a rough time of it in the new millennium (at least as far as visual media goes). But whatever the reason may be for the character’s waning popularity, Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie doesn’t seem to care; he’s fearlessly pursuing his own project about the life and times of the great leader of the Britons, plainly titled King Arthur and presently on track for a summer 2016 release date.
Now the film might have its first cast member. Although the titular hero has yet to be cast, it seems Ritchie has set his sights on the actor who will train him to become more than just a knight: emerging drama/science fiction/fantasy mainstay Idris Elba (Thor, Pacific Rim, Luther).
According to Variety, Elba – fresh off his performance in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and currently boasting a packed slate that includes starring in the upcoming thriller No Good Deed and voicing Shere Khan in Disney’s upcoming The Jungle Book – has been in talks with Warner Bros. for some time. The role demanding an actor with Elba’s gravitas is none other than a potentially-re-imagined Merlin, of sorts.
But WB and Ritchie remain tight-lipped on details about King Arthur, so it’s entirely possible that the role in question will be that of Merlin himself, and not a Merlin surrogate or composite. The basic story outline Ritchie is working with hasn’t even been detailed yet – not to mention, we have no idea yet who Elba might potentially be acting next to – though Ritchie has apparently taken meetings with other actors to find his eponymous leading man.
What’s clear is that Elba, exact name aside, will play prophetic tutor and advisor to Arthur; how much he’ll be slinging spells, shifting shapes, and cracking wise (as is the character’s wont) remains up in the air.
Elba is nothing if not multifaceted, so if Ritchie knows what’s good for him, he’ll permit the gifted British thespian to let loose on all fronts. That would make for a pretty memorable big screen Merlin; Elba has a sense of humor, he has a presence that commands respect, humanity and warmth to spare, and cuts a tough figure no matter what playing field he’s on (when he’s not busy DJ’ing, proving he’s as much a renaissance man as they come).
With those skills to rely upon, Merlin’s character (based solely on the early bare bones description) should be right in his wheelhouse. Of course, all of this is dependent on what Ritchie has up his sleeve for King Arthur to begin with (and also on Elba’s decision to join production). And all things considered, Elba might not be in a hurry to attach his name to a story that has seen some problems in recent years.
After Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur didn’t perform all that well at the box office in 2004 ($203 million worldwide on a $120 million budget, but only $52 million state-side), the Welsh legend slowly made his way over to television, whereupon not one, but two different series invoking Arthurian iconography – Starz’ long defunct Camelot and BBC’s Merlin – both wound up struck down by the almighty cancellation stick (though admittedly the latter stayed the course far longer than the former).
Maybe Fuqua’s film left that bad of a taste for all things related to King Arthur in audiences’ mouths. Maybe people are just plain old losing their interest in sword and sorcery fare that isn’t Game of Thrones. But more Elba is always a good thing, whether he’s fighting crime, fighting oppression, or fighting kaiju. If that happens to be done with a wand instead of a sword – or both – we’re all for it.
King Arthur opens in U.S. theaters on July 22nd, 2016.